THE NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS faces a key vote next week, when a catch-all appropriations bill reaches the floor of the US House. The bill contains only $10 million for the NEA (down from its current $99.5 million), and there will likely be a motion to zero it out altogether. As members of Congress break for the Fourth of July weekend, here is a question to ponder: What would the Framers of the Constitution have thought about a federal agency for the promotion of art?
The Framers, remember, were among the most learned and cultured citizens of the New World. Many had read widely in the classics and English literature; many, perhaps most, were fluent in French, the universal language of "civilized" men and women. They knew that in Europe -- where in 1787 Goya was enjoying the patronage of Spain's Charles III and where Luigi Boccherini was being named court composer in Berlin -- government support for artists was taken for granted. If someone had proposed that the new American government undertake to subsidize American art, how would these refined and sophisticated statesmen have reacted?
The question isn't hypothetical. . . .