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As Trump Mulls Funding Cuts For The Arts, An Artist Argues Against The NEA


President Trump says he would like to cut what he sees as unnecessary federal spending. There have been few concrete proposals, but one of the budget lines reportedly under review, as it has been before, is the National Endowment for the Arts - the NEA - which gives grants to arts institutions around the country. We're going to talk now to an artist who believes that eliminating the NEA might actually be good for the arts. David Marcus is an actor and artistic director of the Blue Box World Theater Company, as well as a senior contributor to the conservative magazine The Federalist. He joins us from Brooklyn. Thank you very much for being with us, Mr. Marcus.

DAVID MARCUS: Oh, it's my pleasure.

SIMON: You're an artist. What's wrong with the government supporting the arts?

MARCUS: Well, the basic problem with the government supporting the arts in the way that it does - through the NEA and through direct grants to producing organizations - is that it stands in the way of free market competition, which is really the best way for arts organizations to build new audiences. These arts organizations are less incentivized towards going out and getting new audiences than they are to going out and getting new grants. So I think that if we removed some of that grant incentive and forced these arts organizations to compete in a free market place, we'd see a more vibrant arts community that was bringing in more diverse audiences and just larger audiences, in general.

SIMON: What about some other programs the NEA has funded, like art therapy for veterans, art education for youngsters who might be in inner city schools, public murals in neighborhoods that could - that could stand a glimpse of beauty?

MARCUS: I think that there's absolutely a place for them. Now, you know, I am a conservative, so I would prefer to see that stuff done more on the state and the local level than on the federal level, but I have much less problem with that. Again, the problem is the government picking winners and losers. I think that even Paul Ryan in his budget in 2014 - you know, he basically said - in the proposal, he said, look, this is a wealth transfer from poorer people to wealthier people. You're asking the middle class to fund the entertainment of the wealthy. That's not right. It doesn't matter if you're spending $250 million on that or $25 on that. We shouldn't be doing it.

And the NEA has been aware of this. It's just sort of flat-out denied that it's a problem, has refused to address it. And I think that if they can go before Congress and say, look, we're going to change our ways, I'm open to listening to that. I don't see any evidence that that's what they're going to do.

SIMON: Would we really live in a better country, though, if let's say opera and ballet were to have to struggle even more than they do now to stay alive?

MARCUS: Well, I think that we would. You know, creative destruction is not a bad thing, and I'm not actually convinced that opera and ballet would go away if you took this funding away. I think they might look different. I think you might attend them in theaters that maybe are a little smaller. I think that it would take on a new face.

But there's people who want to make this art. They're not going to stop. I mean, government is not necessary to create art. Art is older than government. So I don't think we'd lose opera. I think that it would - I think it would look different, but that's the nature of art. I mean, some things go away. Some things come into existence. That's the beauty of art. We can't simply stay in the same place.

SIMON: Mr. Marcus, is there a production you're working on now you'd like to talk about?

MARCUS: My wife is - my wife and my co-producer are doing a production on their own that is actually called "How To Sell Your Gang Rape Baby For Parts." That's part of the Frigid Festival in New York City.

SIMON: I can't imagine they didn't apply for an NEA grant with a title like that.

MARCUS: (Laughter) That's right.

SIMON: It had winner written all over it, wouldn't you?


SIMON: David Marcus - he's senior contributor to The Federalist and artistic director of the Blue Box World Theater Company. Thanks so much for being with us.

MARCUS: Oh, it was my pleasure. Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.