I have finally had an opportunity to take a look at the NEA's announcement of the 2012 Our Town grants, and a quick overview makes me pleased. First of all, the press release very explicitly addresses the issue of population: "Forty-one of the 80 grants are going to communities with populations of less than 50,000 and five grants are made to communities with less than 1,000 residents (Teller, AK; Last Chance, CO; Star, NC; Uniontown, WA; Dufur, OR)." A quick visit to the Wikipedia pages for the five communities mentioned reveals that they all reside within small counties as well, and are not simply bedroom communities of metropolitan areas.
While I have not had an opportunity to analyze all of the data, I am heartened by not only the awards themselves, but also the awareness of the issue demonstrated in the press release, and I applaud Jason Schupbach, who oversees the Our Town project, and also Mr. Landesman whose leadership has led to such a shift in thinking. While it may be too much to ask for a similar distribution in all the NEA grants, this round of Our Town grants represents to my mind a step forward toward the NEA being truly a National Endowment for the Arts.
I am also very much behind in noting the announcement of a partnership between the NEA, the Department of Agriculture, the Project for Public Spaces, the Orton Family Foundation and the CommunityMatters Partnership in leading the Citizens Institute for Rural Design. I am very impressed with the NEA's pursuit of partnerships with other agencies and organizations as a way of increasing the amount of money going to the arts in this country without having to ask politicians to vote for it. Another such partnership is the ArtPlace initiative.
Over the years, and even recently, I have been grumping about the NEA's support for small and rural communities, so it is with high hopes that I applaud these recent developments as harbingers of a more decentralized and diverse arts scene here in the US.