The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: U.S. House and Senate — plus President Obama — cut back on funding for the arts and humanities, even as Congress grows richer while we get poorer. | December 29, 2011

By Jacob Stockinger

Well, guess what?


The U.S. House of Representatives (below) and the U.S Senate – both of which have been so-o-o-o popular and so in tune with the American public lately – last week passed a bill to cut back on the arts and humanities (specifically, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities) even though those organizations might benefit their own constituents and their own children.

Instead the House and Senate have favored a time-honored historical group that is more conservative and less adventurous about new and contemporary culture: The Smithsonian Institution (below). And it looks like President Obama will sign the bill into law as a compromise measure.

That venerable historical institution of course benefits the city of Washington, D.C. — the very area where the Congressmen and Congresswomen spend so much time dithering in inertia.

Well, they need some place to go unwind and to pretend to be cultured, don’t they?

Do you think it has to do with the anti-intellectualism and pseudo-populism of the Republican Party and the Tea Party?

Good question.

Do you think it has to with federal debt and spending, so many will no doubt say?

Or do you think maybe those same groups see independent or critical thinking skills or art and beauty as dangerous to their agenda and underlying ideology?

Certainly The Smithsonian seems a safer and less creative choice, although no one can deny it is certainly a deserving institution with great many valuable artifacts and exhibitions. (See the photo os its interior below.) And the new Museum of African American History is sure to add to its reputation.

But don’t these cuts also reek of the same know-nothing, take no prisoners partisanship that leads the House majority party to want to defund public radio and public television?

More good questions – especially for a Congress that, as we learned this week, has seen its net worth increase a lot while the average net worth of most Americans has declined.

Read all about it the citizen-politician wealth gap right here:

And here are links to read all about it the budget cuts to the arts and humanities:

Read it and then let me know what you think.

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Well, after reading the LA Times article, I was most in tune with the comments that a Federico Gouveia, from the University of Miami, made regarding the moneys allotted to the endowments — $167.5M in 2011 to $146.3M in 2012. As far as he’s concerned, a country of 300+ million people should be allotting BILLIONS (his emphasis, not mine) in arts/humanities funding, just from the standpoint of proportion to the population and the GNP.

    A financial level of $150M or so is “pathetic” and “laughable” (again, his terms, although they’re mine as well). That leads me to ask: Do you have any “numbers” at hand that compare levels of humanities/arts funding in the European countries against that of the US? Or, for that matter, South American or Asian countries?

    I strongly suspect that most other civilized countries have recognized that the government must provide some funding for independent arts/humanities pursuits, and that the US may well be dead last in this regard (like acceptance of climate change, and consequent shifts to alternative energies) — but I have no way of proving this. Any statistics on hand? Just curious.

    Comment by Tim Adrianson — December 30, 2011 @ 6:20 pm

    • Hi Tim,
      Thanks for reading and replying so thoughtfully and with such particulars.
      Unfortunately, I don’t have such statistics right at hand. But I have seen them in the past, and you are right: The U.S. ranks way down on the list — though I am sure that European countries have also had to reduce subsidies to the arts during their current financial troubles.
      I will check into it further and try to provide a ink to the appropriate study or story.
      In the mean while, it does seem hypocritical and self-defeating for the NEA to use the motto “A Great Country Deserves Great Art” while trying to do it on the cheap.
      But the whole situation tells us a lot about the priorities of politicians.
      Cheers to doing better in 2012 — or later!

      Comment by welltemperedear — December 30, 2011 @ 9:45 pm

  2. I’m a 2-time Nat. Endowment for the Humanities Scholar: Swift & Twain: Satiric Contrasts @ Emory U, 1994; Civil Society in the 16th Century: Luther, Erasmus & More @ Duke U, 1997. This program is the greatest, most beneficial use of tax funds I’ve ever encountered so why am I not surprised Congress is cutting it? Because they kowtow to large corporate contributors, defense industries, and material things that aren’t what are important in life. How sad.

    Comment by Larry — December 29, 2011 @ 7:02 pm

    • Hi Larry
      I couldn’t agree more what your assessment.
      Sad times we live in, no?

      Comment by welltemperedear — December 29, 2011 @ 8:08 pm

      • Hi Jake,

        Thanks for your response re: congressional arts/humanities cuts. It is indeed very sad. I think the Philadelphia Orchestra was at least briefly in receivership recently & the Detroit Sym. was on strike for sometime, lost almost its whole percussion section. While NBA/NFL players receive millions. It all boils down to what our society considers important. And that is the saddest admission I could make.

        Comment by Larry Retzack — December 30, 2011 @ 3:15 pm

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