CBS Defends NEA: ‘Art Needs Subsidy to Be Alive,’ Not the Marketplace

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During CBS’s Sunday Morning, the network dedicated their “cover story,” which lasted over nine minutes, to railing against the Trump administration’s proposed cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts. “With the proposed cuts in federal funding for the arts would hurt their program but not shut it down, but the same cannot be said for groups in other parts of the country,” whined host Jane Pauley while using the New York Youth Symphony as a political prop.

In the segment narrated by Erin Moriarty, she complained that “Last month, the Trump Administration unveiled a proposed budget that defunds the National Endowment for the Art, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”

She noted that the NEA’s budget was slashed in the 90s after the agency was accused of supporting “offensive art.” “But the Trump administration said this time the cuts aren't about taste but taxes and struggling taxpayers,” she reported. But Moriarty wasn’t buying it, “This, despite the fact that all together funding for these agencies makes up less than 2/100ths of a percent of the federal budget.”

This, despite the fact that all together funding for these agencies costs taxpayers close to $1 billion.

“Art needs subsidy to be alive! You cannot just have the marketplace determining what is done,” angrily declared Rocco Landesman to Moriarty. According to Moriarty, Landesman was a former chairman for the NEA, but she never disclosed that he was appointed in 2009 by former President Barack Obama.  

“He worries that without subsidies challenging daring art will never be produced,” she explained. But Landesman’s argument was a rather silly one:

If you came to me and said: “I’ve got this hot idea for a musical about Alexander Hamilton and the founding fathers. And it’s going to be done in rap and hip-hop.” I would say, as a commercial producer, my first take would be really?

His worry is driven by a misunderstanding of the market and incentives. People will always take risks when experimenting with a new product. They take the risk in with the understanding that it could pay off. And when comes to his reasoning for questioning the premise of ‘Hamilton,’ he’s either saying that to just back up his point or he’s admitting that he’s a poor visionary and can’t spot a hit even if it came to him. And art was being produced without any government funding endowment.

Moriarty did interview one person who understood that. “For 20,000 years human beings have been making art. That streak is not going to end in 2018 if the NEA goes away,” argued David Markus an artistic director in Brooklyn, New York.

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Markus was the only person she talked to who supported the cuts, in a segment stacked with opposition. “So when the federal government comes in and gives $10,000 or $15,000 to one company and not other companies they're putting a heavy thumb on the scale,” He stated.

“But what guarantee do you have in a place like Whitesburg, Kentucky—what guarantee that anything will take that place,” she demanded to know, but Markus couldn’t guarantee it. “Things go, yes. This is the nature of the world. This is the nature of art,” he explained.

The network’s entire argument was based on the notion that one tiny government subsidized film studio in Whitesburg, Kentucky was the only business keeping an entire county afloat. “Like most mining communities Letcher County has lost thousands of jobs. And yet how do you account for the new whiskey distillery and restaurant in Whitesburg, the renovated building, the 15,000-watt radio station” Moriarty wondered.

But she didn’t seem to bother to find out if anything else could be behind the region’s good fortune. She didn’t seem to have talked to anyone from the area who didn’t have a direct connection to the studio. To those at CBS, the responsibility couldn’t belong to anything but government subsidized films. 

Partial transcript below:

CBS
Sunday Morning
April 23, 2017
9:09:11 AM Eastern

JANE PAULEY: These very talented members of the New York Youth Symphony are giving their all for art's sake. With the proposed cuts in federal funding for the arts would hurt their program but not shut it down, but the same cannot be said for groups in other parts of the country. Our cover story is from Erin Moriarty of 48 Hours.

ERIN MORIARTY: There is something surprising happening in the Pine Mountains of Kentucky. Like most mining communities Letcher County has lost thousands of jobs and yet how do you account for the new whiskey distillery and restaurant in Whitesburg, the renovated building, the 15,000 watt radio station? What has helped breathe new life into the decimated coal economy here has little to do with mining.

This is Appalshop, short for Appalachian Community Film Workshop, a non-profit art center on the edge of town that exists largely because of federal funding.

ADA SMITH: The Appalshop has been here for 48 years and, I think, has been an example of the diversified economy we real need in this region.

MORIARTY: But now, what was started by the 36th President has suddenly been put in doubt by the 45th.

MICK MULVANEY: This is the America-first budget.

MORIARTY: Last month, the Trump Administration unveiled a proposed budget that defunds the National Endowment for the Art, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Appalachian Regional Commission, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. All which provide critical funding to Appalshop.

Many of the agencies have been threatened with extinction before. In the 1990s, when members of congress accused the NEA of supporting offensive art and the agency's budget was cut nearly in half. But the Trump administration said this time the cuts aren't about taste but taxes and struggling taxpayers. Budget director Mick Mulvaney.

MULVANEY: Can I really go to those folks, look them in the eye and say: “Look, I want to take money from you and I want to give it to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.” That is a really hard sell and in fact something we don't think we can defend anymore.

MORIARTY: This, despite the fact that all together funding for these agencies makes up less than 2/100ths of a percent of the federal budget.

SMITH: Again, to me it’s really short-sighted and silly.

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MORIARTY: Without federal funding, will this important part of American history and heritage be lost?

DAVID MARKUS: For 20,000 years human beings have been making art. That streak is not going to end in 2018 if the NEA goes away.

MORIARTY: David Markus is the artistic director for a theater company in Brooklyn, New York. Surprisingly, he supports the cuts. Markus says even small government grants interfere with the free market by giving recipients an unfair edge.

MARKUS: So when the federal government comes in and gives $10,000 or $15,000 to one company and not other companies they're putting a heavy thumb on the scale.

MORIARITY: Yes, theaters may fail Markus says but others will simply take their place. But what guarantee do you have in a place like Whitesburg, Kentucky—what guarantee that anything will take that place?

MARKUS: I don't have a guarantee.

MORIARTY: So it will just go.

MARKUS: Things go, yes. This is the nature of the world. This is the nature of art.

ROCCO LANDESMAN: Art needs subsidy to be alive. You cannot just have the marketplace determining what is done.

MORIARTY: Rocco Landesman is a Broadway theater producer and former chairman of the NEA. He worries that without subsidies challenging daring art will never be produced. Case in point.

LANDESMAN: If you came to me and said: “I’ve got this hot idea for a musical about Alexander Hamilton and the founding fathers. And it’s going to be done in rap and hip-hop.” I would say, as a commercial producer, my first take would be really?