PBS v. New Media in the National Endowment for the Arts Grants

The New York Times reports that, in the first year that National Endowment for the Arts’ Arts in Media grants were open to gaming and web-based projects, those projects ended up winning funding ahead of established PBS programs:

Among the PBS programs receiving significantly less funding are “Live from Lincoln Center,” which was granted $100,000 last year and nothing this year. The Metropolitan Opera received $50,000 to support its national “Great Performances at the Met” telecasts, $100,000 less than last year. WNET received $50,000 to support other “”Great Performances” productions and the same amount for “American Masters,” compared to $400,000 for each last year.

“The PBS NewsHour” will receive $50,000, half that of 2011, for arts segments; independent documentary series “Independent Lens” will get $50,000, down from $170,000, and documentary series “POV” will receive $100,000, down from $250,000.

WNET, however, did receive $75,000 towards production of a new series, “The Electric Animation Festival,” and its companion Web site, and PBS received $50,000 to support the creation of mobile apps for its arts initiative. A number of other individual documentary films and smaller programs also received funds, as in years past, as did NPR, and numerous public radio productions.


Opening up the grants to more kinds of media projects makes a great deal of strategic sense for the NEA: it lets the organization meet arts consumers where they’re at, makes the organization look forward-thinking in supporting projects that might not garner support or be treated like priorities within their industries but still have important potential, and frankly, it also gives the NEA bases of support in industries that might previously have been indifferent to the organization, or the cause of public funding for the arts. But it does raise a fundamentally tricky question for the NEA in the future. How much of the organization’s work should focus on keeping alive high culture that has wealthy patrons but trouble attracting a new generation of mass-market attendees? And how much should it focus on driving the culture of the future? Obviously these priorities aren’t mutually exclusive, but they are competing for resources, and I do wonder how the mix is going to shake out.