“All too often, art is seen as a “soft” subject, the first thing to be cut, whether by local school boards or the federal government, when money is tight”
Four years ago, a team of Chinese archaeologists found, in a small warehouse in central China, objects that they had unearthed from a nearby ancient tomb. They found an exquisite array of vases, ritual vessels and a set of heart-stoppingly beautiful silver gilt tigers and dragons. Maybe this discovery was part of a long-forgotten regal board game. With these finds we could glimpse the sophistication of the Han dynasty rulers, who, 2,000 years ago, conquered and united the enormous region that was to become modern-day China. This week, conservators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art are going to pack these objects for transportation to New York. They will be featured in an exhibition this spring called “Age of Empires”, which will teach the visitors about the origins of China. In this fact, the N.E.A. grant was crucial in persuading others to add their support. Similar grants have helped the Met mount exhibitions on the art of Jerusalem or India, for example. Unfortunately, it has become clear that the N.E.A. is, once again, under threat of being abolished, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities. Which is the raison? the cost savings, evidently. The United States has no ministry of culture, so in this vacuum, the N.E.A. serves one of the most important functions: it administers a program that minimizes the costs of insuring arts exhibitions through indemnity agreements backed by the government. Because of this, eliminating the N.E.A. would in essence eliminate investment by the American government in the necessity of know other cultures and, of course, the intelligence of its citizens. The public needs a vital arts scene, one that will inspire them to understand who they are and how they got here, and one that will help them to see other countries, like China.