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If writers ran the NEA

March 1, 2009 |  3:53 pm


Our LA Times colleagues have asked 30 professional artists what their vision for the NEA might be. There are actors and choreographers and TV hosts and even a few writers, like Sandra Tsing Loh and Kurt Andersen, pictured.

Loh ("Mother on Fire") went a bit sarcastic, as is her habit.

Oh, if only I were head of the NEA! The mighty power I would wield, at the helm of a cultural institution whose annual budget is less than half of one-hundredth of 1 percent of the U.S. military's. (Alternate yardstick I noticed recently, in comparing pie charts: The NEA budget is about the size of a recent U.S. Department of Transportation program dealing exclusively with traffic congestion.)

Continuing in this vein, albeit a bit more seriously, is Tom Hayden, author of "Writings of A Democratic Society: A Tom Hayden Reader" (2008).

The overall annual budget for the NEA will be just short of $200 million for the coming year. By comparison, we spend more on the Iraq war every day, or $341.4 million, according to the website costofwar.com. This is the real obscenity that goes uncensored.... Obama's long-term model should be Roosevelt's Works Progress Administration. The immediate goal should be dispatching his proposed "artists corps" into neighborhoods and schools to promote and mentor in music, poetry and creative writing, murals and computer graphics. He needs the talent and power of the hip-hop generation.

Kurt Andersen, who hosts the radio show "Studio 360" in addition to authoring the novel "Heydey," says:

I wouldn't actually want to follow Dana Gioia as chair of the endowment, because it would be so hard to improve on his performance. (If any member of the Bush administration deserved a medal, it was he.)

Which he then follows up with several substantive, interesting and forward-thinking suggestions, making him seem much more of an appropriate candidate to head the NEA than, say, Bill Maher, who proposes to abolish it. Everyone's suggestions are here.

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photos: Sandra Tsing Loh by Lawrence K. Ho / LA Times; Kurt Andersen courtesy Random House.