Innovation at the NEA

You know, the NEA gets a lot of flack. The Right Wing of American politics thinks it is a waste of money and the Left Wing thinks it is too conservative. Even the arts and culture sector has heated debates about what the NEA is doing, what it is funding and what kind of impact it can make. I’ve mostly sat these arguments out other than the occasional post about how underfunded they are.But in the face of all of the disagreement and fiscal challenges they are doing some great work, a lot of it we don’t hear about.

Most of you are probably familiar with ArtPlace, the NEA’s much-touted new initiative for place-making through the arts, but you may not know about some of the other projects they are working on. This week has been Art and Science week over at the NEA’s blog, and in addition to posts by  Bill O’Brien, the NEA’s Senior Advisor for Program Innovation,  they’re featuring posts by art/science enthusiasts Roger Malina, Andrea Grover, Marina McDougal and Whitney Dail. From what I understand they’re looking to support art/science projects in the future – so if you’re working in that area, you should email   To get info on the application process and to get on the list for an upcoming webinar to support applications for art/science projects.

They also announced the three winners of the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge. Applications to the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge were accepted in August 2011 from eight communities where Knight Foundation invests; five finalists announced in October 2011 received $20,000 to create an Idea to Action plan detailing their business development strategy. The three winners’ plans held the greatest promise for delivering a sustainable arts journalism model that both uses community assets and can be adapted in other cities. Read the release (linked above) and review the finalists, let us know what you think, loyal readers!

Also the NEA has started a program of “healing arts” using expressive writing to help returning vets deal with PTSD. This made me think of an email I got a while back from a colleague about a TCG project to develop connections between TCG member theatres and military families in their communities.  The email I received was neutral in tone, but I thought I detected a level of suspicion. While I was and remain personally opposed to the American military interventions in Iraq and Afghanistan, I think that arts outreach to military families is important. The arts are valuable tools in helping people to tell their stories, to become expressive, to unlearn violence, model new behaviors, develop interpersonal skills, learn new viewpoints, etc. And we know that a lot of military families are middle class or struggling, they volunteered out of patriotism but also out of a desire for opportunity and social mobility. They might not have grown up with access to the arts or in a community where the arts were central to their education. Here is an opportunity for the arts and culture world to help people in need while developing new audiences and providing access. I don’t see the downside in that.

If you want to see a full list of all the things the NEA just funded, check out the press release here. It is a really wide variety for a diverse and complex country.  I just started digging in – so let’s crowd source this a bit. Dig in and look for projects that you either give thumbs-up or thumbs-down and put it in the comments!

I’m planning an interview with some folks in the NEA soon and will pass along your comments!!

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