Cultural Revolutions

The State of the Art World

What is the art world's state in America today? The answer depends on whom you talk to and what they do. Some of the answers I've heard are: rich, poor, over- and underfunded, neglected, status-laden, censored, silly, profound, personal, public, patriotic, obscene, sacrilegious, attacked, elitist, sexist, postmodern, pluralistic, and so on. And all are true. Anything and everything is sold in the American art industry.

As an artist, designer, and educator I've watched the art establishment grow, prosper, and become politicized over the last quarter century. This growth parallels the expansion of the National Endowment for the Arts and the various state art councils that now exist not only in every state but also in American Samoa, the District of Columbia, Guam, the Northern Mariana, and the Virgin Islands. Then there are the city-sponsored cultural centers and regional and private arts groups that "support the arts." What emerges is a vast and powerful culture machine employing thousands of well-paid art bureaucrats who are devoted to pointing out cultural avenues to the rest of us who presumably cannot find our own way.

Nowhere does this art bureaucracy show the relationship of art and politics better than at the state level. According to the Illinois Arts Council's 1989 annual report, the Lyric Opera of Chicago received $25,875, and the opera's Center for American Artists received $95,220...

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