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A conductor backs Romney’s call for NEA abolition

When the Republican candidate announced his intention to scrap federal funding for the arts, we published several contrary views. Here, in the interests of balance, we present an independent, non-GOP case for abolishing the NEA.

Eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts


The issue of funding for the arts has been, and probably always will be, a complex issue in America.  Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney has proposed reducing the amount of federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  While Governor Romney and I have wildly differing opinions on many subjects, I do agree with this position.


First, a couple of facts:


  1. Government funding for the arts totals only 13% of all funding, with 9% coming from the federal government and less than 1% coming from the NEA.
  2. 19.2% of the funding for local PBS member stations came from the Federal Government.
  3. The federal contribution to public media amounts to $1.43 per American per year. For radio alone, this amounts to only 32 cents.


As you can see, these numbers do not represent significant funding sources. Compared to the funding levels from the government for the arts in most European countries, the NEA budget is miniscule.  Reducing or eliminating federal funding for the arts would not have near the consequences for America that it would in Europe.


Funding for the arts in America is complex because most arts organizations receive their funding from a variety of sources.  According to the NEA, private funding accounts for 43%, earned income account for 44%, 9% from the Federal government, 3% from local governments, and 1% from state governments.  As an employee of an organization that receives funding from state and local governments, I can speak from experience that the cost of preparing the paperwork necessary to receive grants far exceeds the benefit of receiving the grants.  That fact, coupled with the declining award amounts, caused us to decide to discontinue applying for some of the government grants and pursue private foundation grants as well as other avenues for earned income.


Eliminating the NEA would change the mindset of the arts community.  First, it would require that artists rethink their funding model.  Would it cause fiscal problems for some arts organizations?  Of course it would.  The beauty of our complex system is that you can find examples of someone succeeding.  For every Atlanta Symphony, who have locked out the musicians in order to avoid an anticipated $20 million debt, there is a Milwaukee Symphony, who recently announced that fundraising exceeded expenditures for the previous fiscal year.  America is full of creative artists who, without being able to rely on steady government funding, have found an infinite number of creative ways to fund their artistic dreams.  With 1,500 professional theaters, 1,200 symphony orchestras and 120 opera companies, America would not be lacking in the performing arts without the NEA.


Another benefit to eliminating the NEA would be to take away a favorite target of conservative politicians who like to energize their political base with promises of eliminating federal arts funding.  Conservative politicians preach smaller government, although they rarely deliver, especially in the last few decades.  They hope their constituents don’t realize how small a percentage of the total budget is represented by the arts.  They also don’t go after the biggest arts item in the budget, the Smithsonian Institution.



Finally, it’s important to remember that Governor Romney has not proposed eliminating arts funding.  The beauty of the American system is that the President has very little authority to do so.  Most of the funding is not under the control of the Executive Branch of the Federal government.  His desire, and I share this sentiment, is that the American people support the arts directly rather than relying on politicians to grant a budget to an organization based on how it will benefit them in the next election.





Paul Scanling is the Music Director and Principal Conductor for The Atlanta Concert Band and the Director of the Concert Winds at Oglethorpe University.  He is a graduate of Florida State University and has taught every age level from 2 year olds to adults.  He will not be voting for Mitt Romney.

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  1. another orchestra musician says:

    Scanling deploys some numbers and a lot of words, but names no actual benefit of scrapping the NEA other than the momentary emotional relief it would bring to some Republican Party voters. He says that arts organisations could live just fine without the NEA, and some doubtless could; but his claim that the arts would be better off without the NEA indicates that he either doesn’t well comprehend the purpose of government subsidy for the arts, or that he is being disingenuous.

    • Paul Scanling says:

      You don’t think becoming more self-sufficient is a benefit? The Republicans would not get a momentary emotional relief from eliminating the NEA. Even if Romney is elected, I doubt they will follow through. If they did, they wouldn’t be able to use this line in the next election.

      Most arts organizations already live just fine without the NEA. Less than 1% of funding comes through them. If the purpose is to encourage the arts, we’re doing a very poor job and should just cease.

      • another orchestra musician says:

        Government subsidy does not exist to encourage the arts. Its purpose is to make the arts, in their various forms, accessible to members of society that might otherwise not have access to them.

        The arts have existed for as long as organized human civilization has existed. They will not disappear for want of a couple hundred million in US federal subsidy. And no sensible person claims that they will.

        The issue is access to the arts. In a user = payer system, members of society who are not materially or logistically privileged are obliged, in many instances, to live without. Subsidies permit arts institutions to reach these people in greater numbers, and more effectively.

        Most American readers of this blog understand that Romney’s pledge to scrap the NEA is a campaign promise that seeks to endear him to voters suspicious of America’s culturally literate. We understand that Romney likely would not (be allowed to) follow through on this promise. Our concern is that a gentleman who would have us elect him as our chief executive is 1) knowingly attempting to mislead voters regarding the financial weight of various items in the federal budget, while 2) promising to help exclude middle- and lower-income Americans from experiencing the arts, which 3) he is telling us are not something government should support. Taxpayer-funded bombs are great, according to Romney; but taxpayer-funded violins on television, no. It’s almost as if hard-line, Wahhabi Muslims were setting our government’s priorities.

        My query to you, Mr. Scanling: knowing, as we do, that America’s large corporations are sitting on huge unspent reserves of cash; and knowing also, as we do, that America’s super-rich, also are sitting on huge reserves of cash, why is it that arts institutions throughout America are struggling to make ends meet? If your premise that private sector contributions will make up for any lost government subsidy, why aren’t they doing so right now? And why would they, in the years to come?

        • Paul Scanling says:

          In response to your second paragraph, that is the entire reason I wrote this. Norman’s article claimed Romney wanted to kill opera, when the truth is that he wants to reduce funding to the NEA and CPB. That will not kill opera.

          I have been very upset the last few months in watching our presidential election because both sides take statements by the other candidate and blow them way out of proportion, take them to the extreme, and sensationalize just to demonize him. We lack real journalists in this country, especially on the major networks. They are there to drive ratings not report the facts.

          As to your last paragraph, I have no idea why they aren’t. Maybe they’ve met Stanley Romanstein, Ph.D., of the Atlanta Symphony, and want nothing to do with that snake. Maybe they are scared for the future of their business and are saving for retirement. Maybe they realize that they will have to start paying a lot of money for healthcare costs for their employees. Maybe they just don’t like the arts. That they aren’t doing so right now under current circumstances does not in any way preclude them from doing so in the future. It will take the right circumstances for it to happen. I hope we find those circumstances.

          • The headline deliberately pushed the envelope with a view to stimulating debate about arts and politics in the US. Nobody’s talking about culture and heritage in this election. The truth is toyed with and the past ignored. Mass media follow the candidates’ shifty agendas.

          • Paul Scanling says:

            Norman: The headline did exactly what you wanted it to. My problem is when headlines are followed by news stories or even opinion pieces that are not based on factual statements. I see this so often in our current political climate that I don’t trust the media anymore because most of them have an agenda and are pushing it on me rather than reporting the facts and letting me make up my mind.

      • Exactly, American Art institutions need a kick in the pants to become more creative in both fundraising and on artistic content. Thanks for speaking up about this! BTW Obama and Romney are spending upwards of 6 billion to get elected this year. The NEA budget is less than 150 million surely the arts community can raise that if we work together! BTW Voting for Gary Jonson-Libertarian for president ! Im aa fiscally conservative, socially tolerant opera singer!

        • Is this post satire? The ‘kick in the pants’ moment came in 2008 during the financial crisis, and you can be quite sure that arts institutions have been in a firm ‘maximum alert / sky is falling’ mode since then. Getting rid of the NEA would be a major, albeit un-fatal blow to the community.

          Educate yourself on the use of this 150 million dollars. Much of it goes towards matching capital campaigns and its effective impact is much more than 150 MM.

  2. The argument seems sound, including the peeling away of political targets where it seems reasonable to do so. In doing so, the political targeting either ceases – if the motives were reasonable – or morphs into something else if the motives were unreasonable. In the latter case, the real motives become more salient.

  3. So according to Scanling the two benefits to gutting the NEA are:

    1. Gutting the NEA would make arts orgs deeply rethink their funding strategies.

    2. Conservatives would no longer be able to use arts funding as a scapegoat, a tactic which according to Scanling is effective in energizing the republican base regardless of its efficacy.

    The second point is hilarious on it’s face, since he seems to believe that republicans would be incapable of coming up with an equally fallacious distraction to replace their arts bashing, in order to maintain their image of ‘fiscal responsibility.’ Republicans are virtuosos at this kind of blatant lying, and if history is any guide, they would probably STILL point to arts funding a as a source of our national debt even after it was removed.

    The first point only makes sense if you believe that government spending is inherently bad. Scanling proposes replacing this money with increased private revenue without explaining why this is a good thing, or how it might be possible. With all the data out there explaining the positive impact that this kind of government spending results in, his viewpoint demands a convincing case, which he has conveniently not provided. Scanling might not identify as a republican, but he sure spends a lot of time carrying water for their trademark ‘government spending is bad when it’s not used for corporate welfare!’ mentality.

    • Paul Scanling says:

      Could you explain why you think that Republican bashing of the arts has anything to do with their image of ‘fiscal responsibility?’ Republicans, like all politicians, are good at lying.

      Can you provide links to all the data out there explaining the positive impact that this kind of government spending results in? I have seen some, and it’s pretty easy to pick apart. Cause/Effect relationships are very difficult to prove when there are so many different factors.

      I have no idea where the reference to corporate welfare comes from. You must have inferred that from something I wrote. I’d love to know what I wrote that you extrapolated all the way to that.

      • Gladly.

        Like you said yourself, Republicans preach smaller government – and with that – a smaller more balanced budget. By making a big fuss over the hot-button issue of the NEA, they can broadcast to their supporters that they are serious about debt reduction. My point is that eliminating the NEA will not prevent republicans from finding an equally tenuous government program with which they can hawk their supposed ‘fiscal responsibility.’

        Regarding the data:
        “NEA grants have a powerful multiplying effect, with each grant dollar typically matched by nine dollars of additional investments in this country’s nonprofit arts organizations.” – Bureao of Labor Statistics

        In addition to this immediate 9:1 multiplayer on federal money, there is the spectacular ROI that this funding has on the local economies of arts orgs:

        The reference to corporate welfare was a general observation on the economic narrative that republicans like to parrot, and wasn’t inferred from something you wrote

        • Paul Scanling says:

          The study you’re referencing is a terrible piece of research. Yes, organizations that receive NEA grants do receive money from other sources that add up to that number. There is absolutely no way to prove cause and effect from the NEA money. In other words, you can’t prove that they wouldn’t receive that amount of money with or without the grant money from the NEA.

      • Republican “fiscal responsibility” is a lie and a sham. They are pork friendly as are all politicians.

  4. It is ridiculous to say that “most arts organizations live just fine without the NEA.” America only has 3 cities in the top 100 for opera performances per year. Cities like Washington DC, Miami, Seattle, Dallas, Houston, Chicago, and San Francisco are far out ranked for number of opera performances by numerous little European cities with less than a tenth their population.

    Germany, for just one example, has 83 opera houses with 52 week seasons while the USA with four times the population only has about 6 real opera houses, and the longest season is only seven months (at the Met.) Most regional companies only do a smattering of performances per year, and with pickup musicians in ill-suited rental facilities. The effects are all too often rinky-dink.

    And what nonsense to make an unqualified statement that we have 1200 symphony orchestras. That’s counting things like the East Podunk Jr. High wire choir. Here’s an example of the real truth: Germany has 133 fifty-two week season professional orchestras while the USA only has 17 for four times the population. That comes to about 30 times more 52 week season professional orchestras per capita in Germany. And with the collapse of Indianapolis that humiliating ratio just got worse.

    These differences are created by Europe’s excellent public funding system for the arts. Our unique and isolated, neo-feudalistic system of funding by the wealthy obviously doesn’t work (aside from being socially grotesque.) By suggesting we give up trying to create a good public funding system, Scanling is merely saying we should accept our inferiority.

    No other country in the world has had so many orchestras go bankrupt and shut down. No other country has had a major orchestra like Philadelphia or a major opera house like the NYCO go bankrupt. No other developed country has so many of its musicians become expatriates (or try) in order to try to find work. This is all happening because the USA is the only developed country in the world without comprehensive public arts funding programs.

    It is also ridiculous to describe filling out forms for government funding as inefficient. Every major American orchestra has about twice the number of administrative staff as their European counterparts because they have to have huge “development departments” to wheedle money out of the rich. Every year the funding wheel has to be reinvented, and the funding is never certain. In Europe the orchestras and opera houses usually have their funding and budgets settled years in advance. They don’t even have to have these huge development departments. The American system is incredibly inefficient and wasteful.

    And what a ridiculous argument to say we should shut down the NEA because it is under-funded. That’s as non-sensical as saying we should stop trying to find a cure for cancer because our efforts thus far have been unsuccessful. According to Scanling we should just cower and disappear so we won’t be criticized. What kind of leadership is that?

    • Paul Scanling says:

      I don’t understand your connection between ‘living fine without the NEA’ and counting the number of performances of an opera house. They are not mutually exclusive, yet you imply they are.

      The number of symphony orchestras came from an NEA publication. I assure you the East Podunk Jr. High Wire Choir was not counted, despite their obviously high standards.

      You completely ignore Milwaukee? You only cite the bad examples of US orchestras? How many US orchestras are opening their seasons just fine? Why are you focusing on the highly publicized examples?

      Have you ever been a part of an organization that spends 150 hours filling out documentation for a government grant that five years ago brought in $20,000 and this year would have brought in only $1,500? The return on the investment was no longer worth it.

      Have you not seen how successful researchers have been at healing cancer patients? The survival rates are astronomical compared to 10, 20, or 50 years ago. Wrong analogy.

      The leadership I desire is to find funding sources that work for our country. I don’t believe the current one is working. I don’t believe it is fixable primarily because it is in the hands of elected officials whom I do not trust.

      • Mr. Scanling, it is self-evident that the number of opera and symphonic performances per capita are an accurate measure of the health of the arts. When the NEA cites the existence of 1200 orchestras they give no criteria at all for what they are measuring. There are vast differences between school and amateur groups and professional ensembles. We can’t hide our lack of fulltime, professional groups behind a plethora of amateur ensembles. Simply because Milwaukee is doing OK (after recent major reductions) does not mean we should accept the dire straits and closures of so many of our most prominent orchestras. There is no reason we can’t make the same progress with arts funding as we have with medical research – which is in fact largely funded by the government. So much of your reasoning stems from denial rather than a vision for solving our problems. All that said, it’s nice to hear from a band director.

        • Paul Scanling says:

          It is self-evident that the number of performances by organizations you deem worthy of counting are an accurate measure of the health of the arts. On that matter, we will have to disagree.

          Of course there are vast differences. No one claims otherwise. To dismiss groups that don’t meet your standards of performance or regularity is self-serving.

          How many orchestras in America met budget this past fiscal year? I’ll even let you define what ‘level’ of orchestra you wish to include in that number.

          You are defining progress as more government funding. I am defining progress as more funding for the arts. Our goals are the same. Out preferred methods are different. You think yours is the only way. I’m pointing out that it is not working here in America and we should try a different tack.

          The only thing I’m really denying is that government spending is inherently good. I don’t believe that it is.

          • In terms of opera, we do not even need to qualify the nature of the performers. In the USA there are vastly fewer opera performances in every category. And there are far fewer professional orchestras with substantial seasons. These are meaningful measures. (No one has said government spending is inherently good. Our excessive military spending, for example, is inherently bad.) Yes, our goals are the same, but our private funding system has proven itself ineffective while Europe’s public system has proven itself to be quite workable.

      • I am dumbfounded by this ‘logic’. The number of performances an opera company or symphony orchestra gives each season is crucially relevant. America’s 1200 part-time orchestras are not a sign of artistic health. They are a sign that the United States continues to view the arts as a part-time hobby, not a real profession. As more and more musicians see the decline in American orchestral salaries and the relative stability of European organizations, you will see an increase in the number of talented players leaving the States. I did so myself this season. Who wants to play in five different per-service gigs?

        As for grant-writing, of which I’ve done plenty: what’s the difference in spending 150 hours writing government grants compared to 150 hours writing private foundation grants? Most private funding sources require the same documentation as public grants do. With my former chamber music organization, the first question most private foundations asked us was, “What other grants have you received?”. You have to have already received grants to receive future grants. Without that first NEA grant that we were awarded, regardless of the small amount, we would have never qualified for any subsequent private funding.

  5. Here are a few reasons public funding systems for the arts work better than America’s private funding system:

    1. Funding is very consistent because it is an established part of government budgets (which are far more stable than donations by the wealthy.)
    2. Governments do a better job of controlling costs because they generally bargain with all of a region’s orchestras at once and they generally do not allow individually bargained contracts.
    3. Governments have an inherent desire to connect their cultural institutions with the public (the voters) through outreach programs.
    4. The governments see an inherent connection between culture and education and organize their orchestras along those lines.
    5. Governments fund all areas of the arts and thus make sure that orchestras receive their due share but not more. (Orchestras are not allowed to hog resources like they do in the USA.)
    6. Governments make sure that all regions of their country have decent orchestras, not just the areas where wealthy donors are concentrated.
    7. Subsidies allow the ticket prices to be far more reasonable, thus allowing the arts to reach a much wider demographic.
    8. The subsidies allow for more independence from the market thus allowing for a better balance with unusual programming and new music.
    9. Citizens feel a closer connection to arts institutions they fund themselves and this creates more communal pride in local arts institutions.

    • William, you lost me on #9. I think the opposite is true. If citizens support the arts through taxes and government programs they have no real control over, then where’s the buy-in? That creates a distance in my opinion between man on the street and the concert hall foyer.

      I have seen firsthand citizens getting much, much closer to their arts programs when local funding and fund-raising is so crticial. You contend that government funding in Europe spreads the arts further into the varied demographics fabric. Perhaps so. But the same could be said for a type of necessary creativity that could be caused (and have been caused) by arts organizaitons here in the U.S. who have to get out of the museums and concert halls and into the park squares to show their wares, educate the public and build up grassroots support for such.

      There is an inherent pride that comes with direct partciipation in fund-raising, writing the check and doing the volunteer work that can’t be compared to paying taxes. To hope that the funding profile for arts here in the U.S. will ever copy that of Europe is folly. And given the current financial circumstances, I wouldn’t be looking to Europe for answers anyway (not that we’re in such good shape ourselves).

      Maybe it would be better, as this writer suggests, to drop the small percentage of what comes from federal government and simply move on.

      • Ted, a very thoughtful post, but not one that seems based on actual observation. I’ve lived in Europe for the last 32 years. The people there have very direct connections to their cultural institutions. In Italy, everyone from the cab drivers, to waiters, to school teachers go to the opera. The prices are about 1/4th what they are in the States (or even less) so everyone can afford to go. And sometimes they yell and hoot so much in response to the performances you’d think you were in a soccer match. One might think that is just an Italian thing, but it’s not. All across Europe the common people have affordable access to nearby opera houses and love it.

        And cultural matters are an important part of political debate in almost all state and municipal elections (that’s where most of the funding comes from – the Feds contribute a much smaller part.) And the art presented is also often quite political – as opposed to America where most political art is subtly suppressed due to the conservative views of our “donors.”

        These factors connect the people very strongly to their local arts institutions. They take pride in their local orchestras and opera houses just like sports teams and compete strongly against neighboring cities. If the quality goes down, they vote out politicians. And even if they live not so far from a big city, they still insist on having their own local professional orchestra. They don’t believe in what they see as borrowed culture. Every little city wants to make its own.

        In Europe, everyone has a vote about cultural politics, but 99.999% of Americans have no say whatsoever about what our Foundations and the wealthy fund. And as Mr. Burns notes below, few Americans can even attend genuinely professional orchestra concerts and opera performances. In fact, most Americans would have to travel several hundred miles and stay in a hotel to hear an opera performance in a real opera house. For people in Europe, there’s an opera house within a short drive and they can afford the tickets. We’re not going to solve our funding problems until we develop a comprehensive system of public arts funding like every other developed country in the world has long had.

        • William, you are correct. You have seen this firsthand in Europe. I have not. But yet you did write about the European model in this way:

          “And cultural matters are an important part of political debate in almost all state and municipal elections (that’s where most of the funding comes from – the Feds contribute a much smaller part.)”

          So if the ‘feds’ in Europe don’t supply most of the government support but state and local districts do (at the behest of the citizenry), then that really falls roughly in line I think with my premise.

          Is there really that much difference in electing a pol who will take some of your local or state tax dollars to support arts as compared to staging local fundraising (charity, yes) and selling 50 dollar chances on a new Buick?

          I think a key difference in Europe’s support of opera, for example, is that opera is THEIR music. It has its roots in Western Europe, right? Same could be said for traditional symphonic/classical music could it not? I know immigrants took the music over with them westward, but did it remain the same once planted here?

          So will the New World ever embrace such culture in its original form as on the other side of the pond? Our own similar cultural heritage is more home grown Broadway musical, jazz, country/western, bluegrass etc. It is good and appropriate that orchestra and opera events are affordable in Europe. Last time I checked , ticket prices in Branson and Nasvhille and at summer musical theater festivals across the U.S. were pretty reasonable, too.

          By looking across the big pond, are we comparing ourselves to a standard we will never meet?

      • Regarding Europe. Did not Western operatic and classical music evolve in Europe, and over a substantially longer time-frame than any related phenomena in the younger America? Is that not part of the reason for the structure and function of such phenomena, and social embeddedness in European culture?

        • I’ve seen 60,000 people in Central Park for the Met’s free performances there. Given the chance, Americans would love opera which is in many respects a popular art form. America is a direct descendant of European culture (even if we have some really cool other roots as well.) For the most part, classical music is as much our heritage as it is for Europeans.

          • Indeed William, a reasonable point. It is part too of the heritage where I reside, which is also outside of Europe, and also nowhere near as established as in Europe.

            What I was driving at was the continuity of the social fabric or millieux in which a given social phenomenon evolves. Wars and changing boudaries aside, in Europe the enmeshment of classical music and opera has evolved over several hundred years, no? Along with the societies themselves. So there is perhaps some sort of cultural symbiosis that has evolved in that time, such that if we tease apart the fabric, there is a great deal more unravelling of the social fabric than in a younger culture with different fabric and enmenshments. In such other cultures, it would be different threads that would need to be unravelled. Sorry about the metaphors. At a conceptual level, metaphors are oftentimes all we have to think with when writing on the run.

  6. Amazing, coming from a musician!

    1. Already, the only people who can actually a ticket to any kind of legitimate orchestral concert or people with discretionary income. I am retired and living off of Social Security and some investments. I would love to buy a season ticket to me local symphony. I cannot afford one. And I’m luck to see 2 performances a year. Opera? Forget it! Way out of my price range.

    2. Local arts orgs are constantly in fund raising mode already. Their dependency on wealthy donors influences what and how to do the arts.

    3. Arts programs in elementary, middle and high schools has been severely cut back everywhere. Even college music programs are not getting new students because the pipelines from the secondary schools are drying up. Community choruses are filled with gray hairs like myself (who had training in high school and college) rather than young people who wish to continue singing as an avocation.

    Your suggestion that a 100% privately funded arts world has two questionable benefits is ludicrous. What we need is MORE money from the fed, not less. The Europeans are so more enlightened about art than this country it’s not even fair to compare. Most American trained singers have to go to Europe to get a job in opera.

    Come on. Get real!

    • As Spike Milligan once said: “Money can’t buy you friends. But it can buy you a better class of enemy”

  7. Stephen Carpenter says:

    May I suggest that there is another side to the issue of “Arts funding and support” in America? The arts have always been supported by the society and culture in which they found themselves. Always as in fromn the beginnings in the caves or wherever the fist song was sung and copied, the first line was drawn or etched, the first dance was made and mimicd. Always., until now. In America we have this notion that the arts are incidental to what we are as a society and culture and that somehow artistic labor and production is not exactly necessary nor of significant value to the commonwealth.
    In Mr. Scanling’s article he seems to imply that because we don’t spend as much public money on the arts as Europe, the impact is not as severe in when times are tough. Monetarily maybe though doubtful. The cultural impact is far worse. We have lost sight of what role the arts play in shaping the society and marking the culture.
    That shred of a budget item represents in real terms our commitment to a healthy society. BOth artists and audience need to be dignified and ennobled. The arts, if vaiued and made dynamic, can be a central catalyst in creating a changed mind set that raises us out of our impoverishment.
    As to arts organizations need to think creatively about funding, My experience is that that is what they spend a lot of time doing.
    I, for one, am not interested in seeing if we can create and sustain an artless culture.

    • Paul Scanling says:

      I don’t know of anyone, Mitt Romney included, who is interested in seeing if we can create and sustain an artless culture.

      Why does the budget item determine our society’s commitment to the arts? Are there no other factors? You imply there aren’t. I disagree.

  8. Jonathan Cable says:

    “For every Atlanta Symphony, who have locked out the musicians in order to avoid an anticipated $20 million debt … ” – really??

    Time to get your head out of your … tuba, and get real. The Woodruff Arts Center is not locking out musicians just to avoid an anticipated $20M deficit – they are locking them out because the musicians rightly believe that deficit reduction should not be exclusively on their backs. WAC wants only the musicians to shoulder the burden; the musicians want the administrative staff to be subject to an equal proportion of cutbacks and wage reductions. The WAC has refused this, and the staff has had their salaries and benefits go up by something like 47% since 2006, and while WAC has continued to expand and hire staff, they demand a 20% reduction in the number of musicians in the orchestra. Do you really think that all these staff members will be able to also do the performances onstage?

    Public arts funding is a lifeline for lots of organizations who will go under if it is eliminated. If anything, public arts funding should be EXPANDED and not reduced. Bloodletting never saved a single patient, and it will not here, either. Transfusions are more in order here.

    PBS (and especially NPR) has always been a thorn in the GOP’s side. What a good idea, let’s get rid of non-partisan voices in the media and leave broadcasting exclusively to Fox, Limbaugh, Beck, Coulter et al. The GOP has been saying all along that that’s what they want, and anybody who doesn’t think they will absolutely go about doing it isn’t just being naive, but either blindly stupid or stupidly blind.

    And don’t give me any kind of “you don’t know …” nonsense. I’m a professional classical musician and have an almost 50-year career behind me. If I haven’t seen it all, in the US and abroad, I’ve seen most of it, and i know what I’m talking about. Cutting arts funding is like cutting a violinist’s strings and then demanding to hear him/her play another Paganini Capriccio. What part of that is so hard for a musician or any other artist to understand???

    • Indeed Jonathan.
      While not an American (all stand), I can see standard political tactics afoot here that we see anywhere in the world. The main strategy for mainstream political parties is to reduce the support base of their opponents, both directly and indirectly. This is stock-standard politics anywhere in the world, with some particularly good examples here and there. The only thing that differs is the contextual specifics and tactics (you may now be seated).

    • Paul Scanling says:

      As an Atlanta resident, I am very familiar with the situation in Atlanta. I know several people in the organization personally, both onstage and off. The facts you mention are all correct, but do nothing to dispute the reason for the lockout. They really do support it. The argument they are having is how best to cut expenses to avoid the anticipated $20 million debt.

      Did I, or anyone, imply that the administrators would be performing on stage? How does that add to this discussion?

      I know lots of people who would argue the NPR is incredibly biased. I also thought it amusing that you only complained about the conservative news media and failed to mention MSNBC or CNN. Maybe because mentioning them does not support your argument?

      I’m not proposing cutting funding. I’m proposing reducing our reliance on the federal government. Those two statements are very different. What part of that is so hard for you to understand?

      • “I’m not proposing cutting funding. I’m proposing reducing our reliance on the federal government. Those two statements are very different”

        We get it. You don’t want arts orgs to rely on the government. So take the next step: How would shifting the focus to private revenue streams lead to greater solvency?

        Right. You don’t know. You just know that government spending is bad.

        Your article is neither a proposal nor a thought experiment. It’s just misguided rambling from someone who doesn’t understand the first thing about the non profit sector. Makes sense that a wind band conductor could spew so much hot air.

  9. Thanks to Norman for putting up this very interesting argument. Out of all the comments, I would like to pick just one to respond to. William Osborne said: “1. Funding is very consistent because it is an established part of government budgets (which are far more stable than donations by the wealthy.)” I cannot agree with this assertion. I think that in Europe right now we see news every week of long-established orchestras having their budgets slashed because the governments have run into severe fiscal problems. Putting the survival of the arts too much in the hands of government shows a touching faith that is often not borne out by events. Here in Mexico, the best arts organizations rely on a fairly large number of private donors which has proved to be far more reliable than the promises of politicians.

  10. site the whole article says:

    Dear Sir -

    133 52-week orchestras . . . in Germany . . . .

    If you’re going to site the article – you should site all of it:

    “Germany’s so-called Kulturorchester – a somewhat antiquated label used in collective bargaining agreements but meaning nothing more than an orchestra which works all year round with a permanent staff – are financed primarily by the public sector. The funds generally come from state or local subsidies and from radio and TV licence fees. Due to the federal structure of the country, the German Länder (states) are in charge of cultural affairs, and the role of the national government in funding theatres and orchestras is minimal. ”

    • another orchestra musician says:

      Stimmt ja, allerdings. In Deutschland sind Kulturausgaben eine Länderhoheit. Was aber keineswegs bedeutet, daß die Bundesregierung Kulturausgaben nicht unterstützt, oder gar für unwichtig hält. Diesbezüglich überläßt halt die Bundesverfassung den einzelnen Ländern gewisse Verpflichtungen, darunter generell die Unterstützung der Staatlichen, sowie selbstverständlich der Städtischen, Kulturinstitutionen. Es ist logisch, daß Institutionen, deren Einzugsgebiet vorwiegend lokal ist, von den betreffenden örtlichen Behörden verwaltet werden. Die Pflege der Kulturinstitutionen bleibt ihnen nichtsdestoweniger eine rechtlich vorgeschriebene Pflicht.

  11. There is a reason few have heard of this conductor. 13% will not make anyone reconsider anything, without it,k most operations would end up operating on 13% less including this guys operation. For a small time operator like the Atlanta Concert Band. Oglethorpe U. on the other hand without 13% might decide to shut down his fringe orchestra.

  12. Mr. Osborne,

    Your 9 points stating reasons why the arts should receive public funding have a nice Wilsonian ring to them.

    Unfortunately, they’re not entirely accurate. I won’t argue each and every point with you. Suffice it to say that I have seen huge levels of public money wasted through government funding of arts organizations, that governments in Europe lack consistent cultural policies, as these can shift with each new government, and that collective bargaining with musicians’ unions and government funds – in my experience – can be a ludicrous sham.

    You mention Italy as a wunderland of classical music connectedness. Last time I was on vacation there, I couldn’t find a single station which played classical music, which I enjoy listening to while driving. Neither on FM or AM. Don’t even get me started on how government money is spent on concerts in Italy. Suffice it to say that, as in many other areas when it comes to Italy, it is frequently a corrupt sham, and that tickets are only made available to local bigwigs and not to taxi drivers or pizza restaurant owners at any price.

    Methinks you have an overly rosy view of European cultural funding. Hasn’t the number of full-time orchestra jobs in German declined from somewhere over 12,000 in the early naughties to just above 9,000 today with about 800 positions being permanently vacant? If you divide that with the somewhat standard complement of 75 musicians per orchestra in Europe, the equivalent of 51 orchestras has been shut down.

    That’s more than the number of orchestras that have gone bust in the US over the last decade, if my memory serves me well. You’re not done with the Euro crisis over there across the pond yet. Give it a few more years and then you can extoll the virtues of European public funding of the arts. Whatever is left of it.

    Mr. Scanling,

    I have to agree with you. Sending of an NEA application requires not only lots of hours of writing, but quite a bit of lifting. I remember sending one off which weighed 14 lbs in the original and its manifold copies.

    Let’s face it – the big bucks, grants in the $200,000 range go to the biggest institutions like the Met, the NY Phil, Chicago Symphony, etc. These and similar institutions all have well-staffed development departments, where writing an application takes a part of one person’s time, and probably outweighs that person’s salary by about $150,000. That’s a good deal.

    If, however, you move further down the totem pole, regional orchestras and opera companies are lucky to get grants of $5,000-$10,000 from the NEA. These organizations, with budgets of around $1 million typically don’t have a development department filled with staff. If they’re lucky, they’ll have one development director with an assistant. If not, the lucky Executive Director gets to do the work on top of everything else s/he has to do. Ripping a week or so out of your calendar, typically to meet a deadline when you are already extremely busy with an ongoing season isn’t easy, nor an attractive proposal. It’s much easier to hit up a donor or two and ask for a $5,000 increase in their giving. It takes about 2 hours and you get a paid-for lunch on top in most cases.

    Scrap the NEA, I say. It’s not a democratic institution anyway, since it mostly benefits the fat cats, or gives money to organizations – like the Atlanta Symphony – which can’t manage the funds properly anyway. Given the way the Fed is printing dollar bills these days, the NEA’s $150 million budget will be worth about $500,000 of today’s dollars five years from now, so what’s the reason for keeping the thing around?

    • “I remember sending one off which weighed 14 lbs in the original and its manifold copies.”

      I just submitted an NEA application online. It weighed zero pounds.

      An NEA application I submitted on behalf of a mid-size organization two years ago did indeed come in at a few pounds, but it proved well worth it as the application was approved and the funded projects have rolled out one by one and increased our capacity, raised our global profile, made us new friends, and much more besides. In this respect, the argument is very simple: given budgetary constraints, without the NEA some of these projects would not have happened, and we would have been miles behind where we are now.

      I guess times have changed.

  13. Some of the argument for federal support of the arts is removing the barrier of entry (ticket prices) to the folks on the street. We can’t view everything through the lens of New York or Chicago. In Tulsa or Memphis for example, local opera tickets start at $35.00 or thereabouts. Somewhat higher in Kansas City (like 50 bucks) but of course they’re paying for that brand new, presumably breathtaking piece of Moshe Safdie architecture they play in.

    Orchestra performance tickets are even lower, of course. Professional orchestras in Fayetteville Arkansas and Tulsa (yeah, I know, it ain’t the NY Phil, but still good music) start at $15.00 in Tulsa and $25 in Fayetteville (and in the Arkansas case there is NO bad seat for 25 bucks in the 1,110 seat concert hall there.

    Compare contrast London to NY. Yes, they are cheaper than say the NY Phil. Cheapest tickets, based on current pound/$ exchange are around $20 in London compared to $41 at Lincoln Center in NY. But if you are really on a budget and retired, then check out certain guests at Alice Tully rather than Avery Fisher. And morning open rehearsals are often free or very low cost at Avery Fisher.

    Would further or greater U.S. government support mean the NY Phil and the London Phil would be at par for local ticket prices? I wouldn’t hold my breath.

    But still, in the U.S. when an opera ticket and especially a good orchestra performance ticket can be procured for somewhere between say twice the cost of admission and popcorn to the suburban Cineplex and well below a one-day pass at Disneyworld, I don’t see a major barrier of entry. Especially if you throw in free concerts, student discounts and other low-cost opportunities (if you look for them). A while back with a friend in Tulsa we saw LaBoheme for a two-fer. Parking and tickets: Less than 40 bucks for the two of us.

    Just my take out here in the hinterlands of the lower Midwest. Suppose I should defer to those in music academia and those by the grand concert halls of metropolis. All I know is I have been able to get some decent last minute ‘deals’ for the Dallas Symphony Orchestra for example when down there, and yeah, a couple of times in the Meyerson’s first 4 rows the seats, so low you have a great view of the violinists’ calves. But if you’re there for an organ symphony extravaganza, everyone’s looking up, so to speak, at the organ loft anyway. And WHAT a view of van Zweden’s conducting from those cheap seats!

    • another orchestra musician says:

      Agreed, Mr. Talley. Making the arts accessible is the very purpose of federal subsidy – and one that also is achieved, rather more frequently than some detractors seem eager to admit.

      “Tonight’s broadcast was brought to you, in part, by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.” Who among us has not heard these words?

  14. The entire United States federal government needs to reduced in scale. The NEA and NEH both can go, along with many, many of the other “essential” programs and departments that have been created in the last 40 years.
    Citizens who love the arts and humanities can devote their time, energy and financial resources directly to supporting anything in which they place value in their lives and for society. It has never made sense for the government to tax us in order to fund a bureaucracy that decides what is best for it’s citizens. And it makes no sense for citizens to get back pennies in “arts support” for dollars in taxes paid.

    • William Safford says:

      I disagree. I find it ironic that people who do not believe in the Federal government want to get elected to Federal office. But that is a discussion for another forum.

      It makes perfect sense for people to come together to accomplish together what they cannot by themselves, or not as well. That’s what government is all about. That’s the strength of a program such as the NEA. It should be strengthened, not eliminated. Alas, I’m not holding my breath.

      In these times of unemployment, I’m reminded of the quote by New Dealer Harry Hopkins concerning federal support for artists: “Hell, they’ve got to eat just like other people.”

  15. I’m never going to be convinced by an argument that has such a narrow focus. I know this is a classical music blog, but if you are going to make a cogent argument for abolition you really have to address the entire range of arts activity that the NEA supports, and much more besides.

    One thing that has not been considered is the importance of the the peer review system that the NEA has adopted. While it’s not perfect, the knowledge that our applications are being considered by artists and fellow professionals is a game changer. More importantly, the knowledge that our applications are being measured against their ability to deliver public good rather than the wishes and personal tastes of one person or a handful of people operating in the private realm – and under no obligation to justify their decision according to the bigger picture – makes a huge difference. The result is that many projects are supported on artistic merit that may not otherwise get off the ground.

    Also, I’m a grantwriter and I completely disagree with Mr. Scanlon that the effort put into grant applications are more trouble than they are worth. Mr. Scanlon completely ignores the value of the application process in terms of the way it underpins advance planning and refreshes an organization’s focus on its mission. I’ve seen this happen time and time again.

    I think the problem is that Mr. Scanling’s argument focuses exclusively on money. And I think the argument needs to be about quality – the quality of the arts activities and experiences that the NEA supports that wouldn’t happen otherwise, and which would be lost if the NEA goes.

    I live in New York City, and the NEA has made a much bigger difference to the downtown performance groups I know than it seems to have done for the classical music organizations Mr. Scanling has been working with. The NEA might not have much impact where Mr. Scanling is, but it certainly does where I am. We really need to look at this from a much, much wider perspective.

  16. This is a provocative post, and Mr. Scanling brings up interesting points. Yet, I have to disagree with him. To kill the NEA would mean that every organization, regardless of size and scope would have to fight for corporate and private funding. The smaller, and newer organizations will likely not fare well when they have to compete for funding with the New York Philharmonic. The way I see it is if the NY Phil cannot count on a certain amount of money from the NEA, they will go request this money from a foundation or private funders. This means that a smaller organization (like the Brooklyn Phil, NYCO, etc.) will not have access to ( or won’t be able to count on the same level of support) this same foundation, or funder, because they must now fund the NY Phil. The Brooklyn Phil then must go and find support at the next level down of funders, which means that when a smaller chamber ensemble wants to apply for funding from this smaller foundation, they will have already given their money to the Brooklyn Phil, etc. This situation would be detrimental to a healthy and diverse musical environment and will most likely mean that only the bigger, older and more established organizations will continue to thrive.


    This is one of several essays I have written over the years about the value of maintaining a consistent National, state, and local government presence where art support is concerned. Investing in the arts is not just about cost (to taxpayers); it’s also about revenues that those dollars generate in terms of federal, state and local tax receipts; about fostering education programs that reach underserved or disengaged students; of seeding collaborations that transform communities and much more.

    State Arts Councils are some of the few funders left that have an obligation to EVERY organization, every taxpayer, every schoolchild in their states. This means they review applications for impact as well as artistic quality; to ensure that there is as much equal access to the arts for all. Most important, their grants provide a signal to the private sector about which organizations are doing high-quality work because in virtually every case, applications are peer reviewed. Few private funders offer this scope of review.

    Eliminating funding for the NEA, NEH and CPB might scratch an annoying cultural itch for people who choose not to inform themselves about the benefits to society that public arts-funding agencies provide, but since they represent a nearly insignificant fraction of the financial problem that our country faces, it seems that spending one more minute arguing about it (as opposed to, say, defense spending) is absurd.

    As former Senator Alan Simpson famously intoned while giving the Nancy Hanks Address; “The impact that funding the NEA has on the Federal deficit is about the same as the impact of a sparrow belch in a typhoon.”

    Let’s find a new issue, please.

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