Three decades into the long culture wars, how are artists, scholars, and cultural organizations navigating shifting political, community, and financial tides? Where have we encountered friction or congruence between federal priorities and our work at state, local, and community levels? Has our work changed—in structure, presentation, or substance—in response to these priorities?
Despite threats of elimination earlier in the year, federal funding for the arts and humanities has been preserved—at least for now. While rightly celebrating this collective accomplishment, we must also acknowledge that ideological pressures on US cultural policy are performed as much through selective funding as outright defunding. Each successive presidential administration has stamped its particular priorities on funding agencies, shaping arts and humanities research through both direct and indirect means. The grantmaking models now used by the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities were carefully devised to avoid the headline-grabbing controversies of the 1980s culture wars while articulating the value of the arts and humanities to a non-elite, often skeptical public. Simultaneously, arts and scholarly communities have sometimes struggled for diversity in terms of race, class, and gender. Nonprofit cultural and educational institutions evolved alongside twentieth-century funding models, with diminishing federal funding giving way to support from private philanthropy, and its concomitant priorities. Surviving funding programs often expect artistic and intellectual activities to contribute to community development, shore up fraying social services, or emphasize their policy implications—a challenging charge made more difficult by the patchwork of fragile social, economic, community, and technological infrastructures on which such work rests.
In an environment of heightened scarcity and competitiveness, how do we negotiate the differing audiences, priorities, and compromises that inevitably register in creative, academic, and public discourse? How do we defend our existing, imperfect, imperiled institutions while also calling for—and ultimately achieving—more expansive public funding of a wider range of aesthetic and political voices?
We seek 500-word responses to these questions from communities of art-making, scholarship, and exhibition practice. Moderated contributions will be posted to an online forum hosted by Art Journal Open. Some respondents may subsequently be invited to expand their text into a longer article. Responses will be accepted through August 20, 2018 to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Artist and Associate Professor
Department of Art + Design
Senior Fellow for Arts, Culture, and Equitable Development
Senior Curator for the Elizabeth A. Sackler Center for Feminist Art
Mimi Thi Nguyen
Gender and Women’s Studies and Asian American Studies
University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign