Home » The NEA robs from the poor to entertain the rich

The NEA robs from the poor to entertain the rich

Its not your moneyIt seems the National Endowment for the Arts has become a reverse Robin Hood, taxing working class Americans so that wealthier Americans can enjoy the arts.

Paul Ryan’s House Budget Committee, in its proposed budget for 2014, asserted that the NEA funds programs that are “generally enjoyed by people of higher income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier.”

The National Center for Arts Research at Southern Methodist University released a new study to examine claims by Republican lawmakers that the NEA is disproportionately funding programs enjoyed by wealthy Americans.

Despite a finding that “the idea that the NEA derives its funds from poorer Americans is dubious,” they found the claim that NEA activities were generally patronized by wealthier Americans was “worthy of exploration.”

The study does nothing to refute Republicans’ claims and more importantly this complaint seems to have more impact than previous complaints about the offensive materials being sponsored by arts organizations being funded by the NEA.

The arts community understands that if this charge by Paul Ryan sticks it will deal a serious blow to the government-funded arts scene.

It appears that according to the available data the economic strata of those attending arts performances no inferences can be drawn with regards to income. In fact, with the cost of tickets for events, it seems that most attendees would necessarily in the higher income brackets.

Of course, the New York Times tried to use the study to trumpet their own point of view with a headline that contradicted the very study that it was reporting: “N.E.A. Funds Benefit Both Rich and Poor, Study Finds.”  

According to the NEA’s snapshot of a theater attendee, 20 percent of those attending non profit plays made more than 150,000 dollars a year, a group that makes up 5  percent of the overall population.

For musicals (which are typically more expensive) the number of attendees who make over 150,000 jumps to 40 percent. The fact that those performances may have occurred in the neighborhood of the poor and middle class really doesn’t matter.

In fact, in a recent study Clayton Lord showed that in the San Francisco area, the demographics of theatergoers (wealthy and white) remained unchanged regardless of the demographics of the county in which the play takes place.

Despite the protestations of the arts community everyone knows that NEA funding supports the arts for the wealthier classes in America. Why continue to haggle over the issue? Accept it for what it is?

Would you expect working class Americans to spend this amount of money on the arts? A pair of tickets to a mainstage production at the NEA funded Atlantic Theater Company in New York costs $130. Two seats to see Baryshnikov in “Man in a Case” at Berkeley Rep in San Francisco costs $230.

If the arts community wants to solve this problem then some new ideas on ticket pricing are in order. A cap on ticket prices for NEA funded events, for example, seems a fair balance.

While the National Center for Arts Research might think its dubious that the NEA derives its funds from poorer Americans, there are plenty of middle class Americans who pay a lot of taxes and cannot afford to attend NEA funded events.

Another approach might be the diversion of funding from arts production to arts education. People will not attend arts events if they don’t understand what they are about.

The Republicans have latched on to an issue of basic fairness and they shouldn’t let up. Corporations and wealthy individuals should be encouraged to support the arts community rather than depending on taxpayers: working class or wealthy.

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Name: Richard Billies

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