The question of middlebrow culture

Populist vs. elitist arguments from conservatives

Vs. Praising the virtues of the marketplace as an arbiter of values

From the 1965 Act

The Congress finds and declares the following:
(1) The arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States.
(2) The encouragement and support of national progress and scholarship in the
humanities and the arts, while primarily a matter for private and local initiative, are
also appropriate matters of concern to the Federal Government.
(3) An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone,
but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and
cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better
analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.
(4) Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and
support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities, designed
to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their
technology and not its unthinking servants.
(5) It is necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to complement, assist,
and add to programs for the advancement of the humanities and the arts by local,
State, regional, and private agencies and their organizations. In doing so, the
Government must be sensitive to the nature of public sponsorship. Public funding
of the arts and humanities is subject to the conditions that traditionally govern the
use of public money. Such funding should contribute to public support and
confidence in the use of taxpayer funds. Public funds provided by the Federal
Government must ultimately serve public purposes the Congress defines.
(6) The arts and the humanities reflect the high place accorded by the American
people to the nation's rich cultural heritage and to the fostering of mutual respect
for the diverse beliefs and values of all persons and groups.
(7) The practice of art and the study of the humanities require constant dedication and
devotion. While no government can call a great artist or scholar into existence, it is
necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to help create and sustain
not only a climate encouraging freedom of thought, imagination, and inquiry but
also the material conditions facilitating the release of this creative talent.
(8) The world leadership which has come to the United States cannot rest solely upon
superior power, wealth, and technology, but must be solidly founded upon
worldwide respect and admiration for the Nation's high qualities as a leader in the
realm of ideas and of the spirit.
(9) Americans should receive in school, background and preparation in the arts and
humanities to enable them to recognize and appreciate the aesthetic dimensions of
our lives, the diversity of excellence that comprises our cultural heritage, and
artistic and scholarly expression.
(10) It is vital to a democracy to honor and preserve its multicultural artistic heritage as
well as support new ideas, and therefore it is essential to provide financial
assistance to its artists and the organizations that support their work.
(11) To fulfill its educational mission, achieve an orderly continuation of free society,
and provide models of excellence to the American people, the Federal Government
must transmit the achievement and values of civilization from the past via the
present to the future, and make widely available the greatest achievements of art.
(12) In order to implement these findings and purposes, it is desirable to establish a
National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities.

The term "determined to be obscene" means determined, in a final judgment of a
court of record and of competent jurisdiction in the United States, to be obscene.
(k) The term "final judgment" means a judgment that is either—
(1) not reviewed by any other court that has authority to review such judgment;
(2) is not reviewable by any other court.
(l) The term "obscene" means with respect to a project, production, workshop, or
program that—
(1) the average person, applying contemporary community standards, would
find that such project, production, workshop, or program, when taken as a
whole, appeals to the prurient interest;
(2) such project, production, workshop, or program depicts or describes sexual
conduct in a patently offensive way; and
(3) such project, production, workshop, or program, when taken as a whole,
lacks serious literary, artistic, political, or scientific value.

No payment shall be made under this section except upon application therefor
which is submitted to the National Endowment for the Arts in accordance with
regulations issued and procedures established by the Chairperson. In establishing
such regulations and procedures, the Chairperson shall ensure that—
(1) artistic excellence and artistic merit are the criteria by which applications are
judged, taking into consideration general standards of decency and respect
for the diverse beliefs and values of the American public; and
(2) applications are consistent with the purpose of this section. Such regulations
and procedures shall clearly indicate that obscenity is without artistic merit,
is not protected speech, and shall not be funded. Projects, productions,
workshops, and programs that are determined to be obscene are prohibited
from receiving financial assistance under this subchapter from the National
Endowment for the Arts.

The 2011 NEA Guide

The National Endowment for the Arts awardsmatching grants to not-for-profit organizations. In addition, it awards non-matching individual fellowships in literature and honorary fellowships in jazz, the folk and traditional arts, and opera. Forty percent of the Arts Endowment's funds go to the 56 state and jurisdictional arts agencies and the six regional arts organizations in support of arts projects in thousands of communities across the country.

All applications to the Arts Endowment are reviewed on the basis of artistic excellence and artistic merit. Applications generally receive three levels of review. First, they are reviewed by independent, national panels of
artists and other arts experts. Panels make recommendations that are forwarded to the National Council on the Arts.
The National Council on the Arts, the Arts Endowment's advisory body, comprises nationally and internationally renowned artists, distinguished scholars, and arts patrons appointed by the President, and members of Congress. The council reviews and makes recommendations on the applications. Thoserecommendations for funding are sent to the NEA chairman. The chairman reviews those applications and makes the final decision on all grant awards.


Reading: Richard Bolton, Culture Wars: Documents from Recent Controversies in the Arts (selections)

Serrano's work as a flashpoint: Helms and D'Amato

Finley's editorials

Gray's polemic

Making arguments about "good" art

Reading: Stephen Dubin, Arresting Images: Impolitic Art and Uncivil Actions (selections)

The body as spectacle

The AIDS crisi