Why are we so afraid of Piss Christ?
And what HAS he done with our funding?
Photographer Andres Serrano was awarded a $5000 grant from The National Endowment for the Arts in 1986. In 1987 he showed a photograph of a submerged 13-inch plastic and wood crucifix floating in jar of his own urine at Stux Gallery in New York. The work garnered very little fan fare at it's debut before that photo and many other works went on tour with a ten person show, with each of those artists receiving a $15,000 fellowship from SECCA to continue their work.
It wasn't until reverend Donald E. Wildmon from the "National Federation for Decency" was personally offended and spread the word about Piss Christ that then sparked a heated national conversation about tax payer funding of arts. It quickly became the hot-button political and news topic. As a result of this one man's offended sensibilities and taste, congressional-wide support for cutting funding to the National Endowment for the Arts moved forward and the NEA became tax-payer enemy #1. To this day, the work represented by the NEA still remains completely inauculous and ever fearful of the great-fund-cutting-axe.
Culture can be defined as the sum of attitudes, customs, and beliefs that distinguishes one
group of people from another. Culture is transmitted,
through language, material objects, ritual, institutions, and yes, art.
It moves fluidly from one generation to the next…and right now, in a down economy for artists, we are letting politicians and leaders define our culture for us through funding agencies and elitist oppressive managerial decisions.
Artists have bought into it hook, line, and sinker, that the administrator's 80K a year is more valuable than our 2k per year. You may be the most talented artist in your community, but if you suck at grant writing, leading a 501(3)c, or you experiment with the controversial, you will never get support from your state or federal agency. YOU miss out on millions of dollars that is supposed to be there for you, or almost worse, you let the need for funding define your work.
oppressive imperial bureaucracy similar to the one that we are basking in right now can't be ignored, and it's tampering individual initiatives and accomplishments while giving way to a systematic generic management system for all art and culture, growing to represent communities in a fictitious way that is damaging to the very core of freedom of thought. It's very evident that this bureaucratic and political management system has made it's way to Maine through the the Maine Arts Commission which was once a respite, a place where all artists could go to be included and noticed in the state they love. It's now generically boring and a political leverage marker and administrative job creator. The art has all but disappeared, used at a minimum, and only as a marketing and branding tool for the elite to raise funding.
Art, music and literature is what creates culture, not governments.
The creative process is about (at least some) risk-taking and experimentation. We are now left with sailboat paintings and abstract colorful shapes that hang in fancy modern loft apartments. Trend setting textures and generically tasteful photography now represent our state and who we are as a people instead of deep explorations of contemporary plights and insight into magic and the unknown.
The fear of losing funding because of a pissed off Reverend (pun intended) has put a lot of very uncreative people in charge of our national and state arts and culture, the ability to write a five-point presentation with research to back the number crunching has become of way more importance than seeing that our artists, musicians and writers are able to work freely and openly, which, as an artist, you know is the only way to truly create greatness.
A perfect example of bureaucracy in action is the largest grant given through the Maine Arts Commission since 2014. Although several wonderful and deserving artists and groups received funding assistance through MAC ranging from $500 to $13,000… the largest of the grants was given right back to the organization and the Collins Center for the Arts for an International Conference in Partnership with MAC. A networking event that is attended by mostly art administrators and grant writers, garnering a generous $60,000 of the budget. The International Conference also has a reasonably hefty ticket price, ranging from $80 - $175, with travel costs to Orono, this excludes many artists that may want to attend.
As artists, we are now expected to merge into business and networking experts to succeed. Unfortunately, it does not work that way, they are not one in the same and the two do not often seamlessly come together for a creative mind. If art administrators are going to expect ongoing and quality art anytime soon, they may soon find themselves out in the desert alone, but at least the yearly budget has paid for their healthcare.
Art, Culture, Unity and Soul