Phylicia Rashad: "I would invest the money in arts education in public schools. I would make it a priority." Really? All of it? That will make you some friends among the artists.And so on. I'm sorry, but I don't find these responses thoughtful, innovative, or even mildly interesting. Here was an opportunity to discuss the impact the NEA could make on our nation, and these celebs decided to make a joke out of it. Others decided that their priority would be reinstating grants to individual artists (they need to tell Neil LaBute that there haven't been individual artist grants since the bruhaha of the 1990s, which is why he hasn't received one -- putz), asking for more money (which is not a vision for the NEA, nor even in the NEA's control, but it's like a reflex act for most artists, like the kid in D. H. Lawrence's short story "The Rocking-Horse Winner"), reinstate the WPA (it is so interesting to hear the WPA being mentioned again -- here's a challenge: the next time some artist friend of yours speaks admiringly about the WPA, ask them to name a WPA production other than Orson Welles' Harlem Macbeth, or ask them who ran the theatre wing and where she came from [hint: she was an academic, not an artist, perhaps an indication that it might be a good idea to have someone overseeing the project who had actually read a couple books]) and funding artists in schools (as long as they don't have to actually do that themselves -- those other artists, you know, the young ones who haven't made it yet, they ought to do it).
Neil LaBute: "If I ran the NEA, I would immediately dismantle all "artist" grants (solely because I've never been offered one myself) and use that money to create more diverse arts programs for inner-city schools. Just kidding. I'd definitely dismantle the grants because, as mentioned above, the awarding of said grants is obviously rigged and in desperate need of restructuring. I would not use the extra money in schools, however, because most kids wouldn't know "art" if it marched up and slapped them in the face. I would instead implement and fund various initiatives to examine "the sex lives of insects cited in the works of Marlowe and Shakespeare" and collect "recipe tips from noted female writers -- Aphra Behn to Naomi Wallace." Now that's money well spent on worthwhile projects -- just like my esteemed predecessors used to do." He goes on like this, obviously entertaining himself, but I don't feel the need to quote further. This confirms my opinion of Neil LaBute as a smartass cretin.
Bill Maher: "If I ran the NEA? I'd abolish it. I'd be the Gorbachev of federal arts endowing and destroy my own job as the head of it. Artists are so self-important -- art is basic to human nature, it will always be produced and does not need the government's help." He seems like such a liberal on his show, but Maher is actually a libertarian who will one day flip out just like Dennis Miller did.
Neil Patrick Harris: "So long as they keep funding public television and radio, I'm good. I grew up learning lots from "Sesame Street" and "The Electric Company" -- everything from the alphabet and numbers to sharing and a sense of humor, and I still listen to NPR daily. Ira Glass? "Wait, Wait . . . Don't Tell Me!"? Great good times. Über-important. I can't imagine our world without them." Ahem.
Noah Wyle: "If I were NEA chief, I would hope to remember this: While the "nonprofit" arts industry enriches the cultural aspects of our society, we are not a charity. We are businesses that give fantastic return on invested dollars....I would tell everyone I meet to invest in us. We give great economic stimulus to every community where we work."
So what would I do if I ran the NEA? What if the L. A. Times had decided there might be actual thoughts from people who weren't celebrities?
First, I believe that the responsibility of the NEA should be to lead. I would be an activist NEA Chair, one who would use the alotted money to change the status quo significantly. Since my discipline is theatre, most of my ideas will be confined to this discipline. So:
1. Use 75% of the budget to fund institutions whose artistic staff has at least 50% who have their legal residence in the county where the theatre resides. It is time for the regional theatre to become truly regional.
2. Require that any institution who receives NEA funding provide ongoing educational opportunities for both young people and adults. And I'm not talking about subsidizing tickets, or doing school performances, or having backstage tours. I'm talking about the ongoing facilitations of community creativity. And not just classes -- performances, exhibits, readings, etc. All members of the artistic staff must participate -- no farming this out to the interns. And Robert Falls has to do double.
3. Reserve 90% of the budget for arts organizations in counties with populations under 500,000. This is generous to the metropolitan areas, since counties with populations under 500K represent over 96% of America. It's time to make arts funding look like America.
4. As part of the grantmaking process, require every member of an arts institution to submit a 5 - 7 page, double-spaced paper with bibliography outlining their beliefs about the arts place in American society, quoting at least five different books. We have to start somewhere. And Teresa Eyring: your paper has to be 15 - 20 pages.