piss_christ.jpgThe ‘arms-length’ principle underpinning the Irish Arts Council is often subjected to a healthy dose of skepticism– nevertheless few public arts policy bodies have endured the heat of political scrutiny quite like the U.S. National Endowment of the Arts. Michael J. Lewis’ perceptive recent article in Commentary Magazine charts the decline of the NEA into the risk-averse and toothless grant-making organisation it’s largely become:

In brief, the NEA has withered in a matter of decades from a self-styled instrument of world peace to a cautious dispenser of largesse whose one inflexible principle is that no grant must ever redound to the administration’s embarrassment. Whether it can regain its early ambition—or whether it should try to—is an open question.

War-scarred with charges of obscenity and wastefulnes, the NEA now toes a pretty timid line on a tiny budget. Is there any hope of resurrecting the NEA into a force for progressive national arts policy? (more…)