As a gay performance artist, one of the so-called NEA Four after my NEA solo theater fellowship was taken away purely because of the content of my work, I spent the rest of the '90s being used as a political football. The fact that I was stripped of NEA funding and kicked around throughout the culture wars until my case landed in the U.S. Supreme Court makes me think I have at least two cents' worth on this subject, which may be all the U.S. spends on the arts per person each year! (It's a bit better than that, but who's counting?)
An arts endowment run by Tim Miller is a notion that terrifies not only me but probably many cautious arts bureaucrats, but I would immediately reintroduce direct support of individual artists. It is shameful that the NEA no longer supports individual artists except for a handful of literature fellowships. I do not imagine these to be fellowships that would just allow artists to dive into their studios but rather would ask them to engage their country. I would propose to support individual artists in deepening a relationship to different communities of American citizens by sharing creative skills and possibilities. From the WPA's Federal Theater Project of the '30s to our own L.A. Department of Cultural Affairs artist-in-residence grants, we have seen that when artists connect to communities -- communities of color, gay folks, the disabled, the homeless -- both the artist's creative work and the people they connect with are transformed.
President Obama's arts platform was on target in its valuing of artists as cultural ambassadors and community organizers. Now we need to put the pedal to the metal and truly transform communities and identities through creative citizenship.