Created by an act of Congress in 1965, the NEA funds artistic work in a wide variety of fields, including dance, design, folk arts, literature, opera, theater, and music.
According to the NEA's website:
The National Endowment for the Arts is an independent federal agency that funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation.
No less a founder than George Washington saw a central place for the arts in the new country (as quoted in the NEA's 2008 history).
The arts and sciences are essential to the prosperity of the state and to the ornament and happiness of human life. They have a primary claim to the encouragement of every lover of his country and mankind.
The list below, as yet (very) incomplete, includes writers who have received grants, fellowships, or awards from the NEA.
- Jill Ciment
- Margot Livesey
- Joan Wickersham
- Douglas Bauer
- David Shields
- Charles Bernstein
- Edward Falco
- Ann Packer
- David Biespiel
- Kate Walbert
- Eric Puchner
Should we be shocked, shocked, that so many of the Writers on T***p have received government funding? Are the Writers on T***p just rent-seekers, trying to keep a philistine businessman out of office? Do these writers just want to preserve the government largesse?
If so, we're really stooping to delusion. If anything, we need more government support of the arts, even the controversial artists, like Mapplethorpe, whose photography challenged prim viewers in the 1980s, and still does. Artistic challenge strengthens us as a people. And anyway, the arts budget is a rounding error compared to defense spending or entitlements.
What support can we muster for this argument? How about looking to the US president who, in 1971, oversaw a near-doubling of the NEA budget from $8.2 to $15.1 million. That president, of course, was Richard Nixon, and his motivation was not so much a personal love for the arts, or even, for once, crass political advantage for himself and his allies. Rather, it was a high-minded effort to use art as a sort of balm for the ills of a deeply-divided country in wartime.
As recorded in the NEA's official history, in 1989, former NEA chairman Leonard Garment explained how his arguments for increasing the NEA budget found favor with President Nixon:
More important was that Richard Nixon knew the extent to which the Vietnam War had turned America into two mutually hostile camps. The president wanted for his own an issue that would not divide his audience into sympathetic hawks and hostile doves. It was more an effort to soften and survive than divide and conquer, but this was the reason my arguments found favor.
In our own time of "mutually hostile camps" -- red and blue, Tr***peters and #NeverTr***p, we should maybe, gulp, follow the example of Richard Nixon.