Talking Points Memo wrote an article earlier this year stating that Kickstarter was on track to provide more funding to the arts than the NEA in 2012. With an estimated $150 million in funding expected to be distributed, they edged out the NEA's appropriations budget by $4 million dollars. Funding for the arts has been a key battleground in America's partisan politics since the rise of Religious Right Conservatives and the ensuing Culture Wars in the 1980's, although even Ronald Reagan was rebuffed by key political allies when he tried to cut funding to the endowment. Reagan was most likely rebuffed in his attempt to dismantle the NEA due to his advisor's awareness of the pivotal role American culture played during the Cold War. However, it is important, both as artists and collectors to mark the socio-economic role of the Arts with global politics. As you can see in the graph below, as Soviet influence wained, so did the funding of the NEA -- thanks to Newt Gingrich and the culmination of the Religious Right in reaction to the Clinton presidency.
The NEA has been a key element of American domestic and foreign policy since its inception in the mid-1960's. Often called "soft power," paying attention to a country's cultural capital is coming back into vogue, specifically due to the aggressive cultural policy of China. Xinhua, China's state-run news agency, has become a regular contributor to many of Africa's smaller presses and a cheap alternative to the Associated Press. Confucius Institutes, founded in 2006 as a language center to promote Chinese language learning, have expanded exponentially and by 2010, they had established 316 institutes in 94 countries according to Xinhua.
Politics aside, a diverse and active culture is of great importance. It defines us; bad and good. It reminds us of how wretched humanity can be as well as giving us the ability to dream beyond what it is now. The Arts may often be seen as a practice funded by well-to-do governments who have the excess capital and we all know that in budget short-falls, the Arts are the first on the chopping block. Yet, take a look at the numbers:
As a point of reference, the United States subsidizes sugar at 55% of production value. Simply, for $1 worth of sugar produced in the US, $.55 of that was paid for by the your tax dollars, whereas only $.13 on the dollar goes towards the arts. Good thing sugar hasn't been politicized.
The fact is, the art market is almost purely subsidized by you. The maker and the buyer, you all are why the art market remains a financial sector at all. This will remain the case whether or not government assistance can retain its current position, both as a platform and a means for talent deserving such recognition. The fact that Kickstarter has done in three years what the NEA was only able to do in its third decade is heartening indeed.