Although the National Endowment for the Arts’ 2016 cost of $148 million was less than one-hundredth of 1 percent of the federal budget, attempting to abolish the NEA is a fight worth having, never mind the certain futility of the fight.
Let’s pretend, counterfactually, that the NEA no longer funds the sort of rubbish that once immersed it in the culture wars, e.g., “Piss Christ” (a photograph depicting a crucifix immersed in a jar of the artist’s urine) and “Genital Wallpaper” (don’t ask). What, however, is art? We subsidize soybean production, but at least we can say what soybeans are. Are NEA enthusiasts serene about government stipulating, as it must, art’s public purposes that justify public funding? Or do they insist that public funds should be expended for no defined public purpose?

Government breeds advocacy groups that lobby it to do what it wants to do anyway — expand what it is doing. The myriad entities with financial interests in preserving the NEA cloyingly call themselves the “arts community,” a clever branding that other grasping factions should emulate, e.g., the “military-industrial community.” The “arts community” has its pitter-patter down pat. The rhetorical cotton candy — sugary, jargon-clotted arts gush — asserts that the arts nurture “civically valuable dispositions” and a sense of “community and connectedness.” And, of course, “diversity” and “self-esteem.” Americans supposedly suffer from a scarcity of both.