Administrators at not for profit American theaters are screaming “murder” that the Republicans may shut down the National Endowment for the Arts and send Rocco Landesman back to playing the ponies. As a playwright and writer with decidedly social democratic leanings, it appears to me that the American experiment in supporting the arts has been as big a failure as marijuana prohibition.
How is this possible? Quick. Trot out the fact that the “mere” $161 million NEA budget generates billions in ancillary revenue. Yeah. Sure. But for who? Not for artists. For corporations that own hotels and airlines and chains of restaurants – the same bunch who have undermined democracy with their money.
The fact is that most arts administrators regard living creative (as opposed to interpretive) artists as, at best, inconveniences. The institution uber alles is the primary operating principle. That makes sense in terms of arts admins doing their jobs. It doesn’t make sense in terms of creating a thriving culture.
The not-for-profit theater in America these days shores up the status quo. This means unmitigated participation in the dumbing down of American culture. Arts admins don’t want to do anything to upset their corporate donors. That is why the only voices of protest heard these days in the theater are those protesting cuts in their own budgets. America doesn’t require a system of official censorship. Theater administrators have become the de facto censors.