NEA to Buy More Votes with Video Game Grants

(Editor’s note: This is an edited version of an Op-Ed that appeared June 10, 2011, in The Washington Times.)

The rarefied world of government arts funding apparently has run out of artists specializing in elephant dung and other offensive media. Now comes the National Endowment for the Arts announcement that it will make grants for digital media — specifically video game design.

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Is there a video game shortage requiring government intervention? With our national budget deficit featuring more zeroes than dots employed by Pointillist painter Camille Pissarro in his entire body of work, and Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback last week relieving a portion of his state’s debt crisis by zeroing out all arts funding, one wonders why the self- and crony-appointed arbiters of our nation’s culture would find it necessary to expand, rather than reduce or eliminate, this sort of boondoggle.

According to the NEA’s website, the 2012 Arts in Media category now includes “all available media platforms such as the Internet, interactive and mobile technologies, digital games, arts content delivered via satellite, as well as on radio and television; and media projects that can be considered works of art.”

But fear not that the NEA merely will fund a rehash of “Grand Theft Auto” as “Million Dollar Art Heist.” The NEA asserts its panels possess the necessary knowledge and experience in digital media to judge applicants and their entries. These renaissance men and women will cut grant checks ranging from $10,000 to $200,000.

NEA elites will even remit more largesse under “extraordinary circumstances” — although a video game emergency is difficult to envision. The NEA media grants seek “to make the excellence and diversity of the arts widely available to the American public through the national distribution of innovative media projects about the arts and media projects that can be considered works of art,” including “media projects that enhance public knowledge and understanding of the arts through multi-platform or transmedia means.”

Is this really enough money to reach the NEA’s highfalutin’ goals? Why not a million bucks for T.S. Eliot’s “World of Wasteland”? Or a cool billion for John Madden’s “Ballet 2012”? What’s a trillion dollars more in debt if it brings us “Halo, Grandma Moses”?

Finally, the NEA website states, “In order to reach the widest possible audience, priority will be given to projects that include substantive public engagement strategies, including well articulated social media strategies.”

In other words, tell us how you’ll hype your creation on Facebook, and you’ll have a better chance at grabbing the taxpayers’ money. While you’re at it, you wouldn’t mind sharing some HuffPo links about evil conservatives, would you? After all, we’re pretty close to another election cycle, and we could certainly use your support, especially if we want to protect our precious art from the likes of Sam Brownback and all those tea-partying, philistine ignoramuses who couldn’t possibly recognize the aesthetic differences between “Dogs Playing Poker” and a William Wegman Weimaraner.

All this is reminiscent of the August 2009 controversy surrounding the NEA after it conducted a conference call urging arts groups that had already received two injections of federal stimulus dollars ($700,000 and $1.2 million, respectively) to discuss President Obama’s United We Serve program. Two days after the call, the groups, calling themselves Americans for the Arts, endorsed Obama’s health care plan, surprise, surprise. “As national arts service organizations representing thousands of nonprofit arts organizations at the state and local level … we call on Congress to pass a health reform bill.”

When the purveyors of traditional cultural activities are already in the tank for big-spending big government, it becomes necessary to expand the definition of what constitutes art to ensure more federal money pours into those realms as well.

Having already bought the poetry and paintbrush crowd, the NEA, through its Arts in Media grants, now endeavors to purchase the votes of their pixilated posse. More waste.


Bruce Edward Walker is managing editor of The Heartland Institute’s Infotech & Telecom News and former managing editor of MichiganScience at the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, a research and educational institute headquartered in Midland, Mich.

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