NEA wraps its website in virtual red tape


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The National Endowment for the Arts has found a way to cover its online posterior while, in time-honored federal bureaucratic fashion, strewing some extra red tape along the information super highway.

Culture Monster had its first encounter with this innovation this week while checking some old e-mail, which included a news release from the NEA on how its chairman, Rocco Landesman (pictured), was planning to spend Thanksgiving weekend back in St. Louis, where he grew up.


Wanting to know more, we clicked on the link the NEA had provided.

What popped up was a “Disclaimer of Endorsement,” 140 words of bureaucratese informing us that “external links to websites from the NEA website and references to non-federal resources are provided solely for informational purposes and the convenience of the user. The National Endowment for the Arts does not control, review, approve, or endorse these sites, nor does the Arts Endowment control, review, approve, or endorse these resources.”

There was some other stuff we won’t bore you with, except to note that the penultimate sentence is: “If you decide to access any site linked to from the NEA website, you do so entirely at your own risk.”

What controversial information were we seeking? We had wanted to know about the Pulitzer Foundation for the Arts, which Landesman was planning to visit.

But our favorite federal arts funder had confronted us with a choice: “Return to preceding page” or “Continue to external site.”

Feeling brave, we clicked onward, and learned what the Pulitzer Foundation of the Arts is. If you’re willing to dare it, click here.

As we suspected — and as an NEA spokeswoman confirmed — this new approach stems from the complaints last fall of Sen. Michael B. Enzi (R-Wyo.) and nine other Republican senators who jumped on a Glenn Beck-stimulated controversy over alleged politicization of the endowment by writing to Landesman about their concerns. Among their objections was a link from the NEA website to the Artists’ Health Insurance Resource Center, where artists looking for information about coverage possibilities also might stumble upon a write-in campaign urging Congress to pass “a real healthcare reform bill.”

Said the NEA spokeswoman: “As promised in our letter to Senator Enzi, we took a look through the NEA website and added a disclaimer in line with best practices of other government agencies.”

This got us thinking — say it takes five seconds to recognize the NEA’s disclaimer for what it is, then make that extra click. That would come to 10 minutes of wasted time for every 120 site visitors who click on a link to the outside. Going by the average private hourly wage of $18.72 given by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, that means the NEA is taking a $3.12 bite out of the economy in lost time, for every 120 Web surfers who use one of its links. So yes, Art Works (the new NEA slogan Landesman coined partly to underscore how artists enhance the economy) — but thanks to this new NEA policy, it also works in reverse.

-- Mike Boehm


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