Not Pelosi's Fault: San Francisco Got More 'Arts' Stimulus Grants Than 48 States

Posted: Oct 20, 2010 12:01 AM
Not Pelosi's Fault: San Francisco Got More 'Arts' Stimulus Grants Than 48 States

The National Endowment for the Arts distributed $1.4 million in special "stimulus" grants to 37 private nonprofit "arts" organizations located in the city of San Francisco, most of which is represented by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Pelosi, however, had no role at all in determining who would win these grants or whether such grants would be distributed in her city.

The 37 NEA stimulus grants given to San Francisco-based "arts" organizations is more than the total number of NEA stimulus grants handed out to "arts" organizations in any state except New York or California (taken as a whole).

The top 11 states in terms of the number of NEA "stimulus" grants given to locally based private arts organizations were: New York, which received 139 grants worth $5.75 million; California, which received 100 grants worth $4.45 million, Pennsylvania, which received 33 grants worth $1.5 million; Minnesota, which received 27 grants worth $1.05 million; Illinois, which received 24 grants worth $1.03 million; Massachusetts, which received 24 grants worth $1.03 million; Washington, which received 20 grants worth $825,000; Florida, which received 14 grants worth $1.25 million; Ohio, which received 14 grants worth $775,000; and New Jersey, which received 14 grants worth $600,000.

The NEA also handed out 19 "stimulus" grants worth $900,000 to private arts organizations based in Washington, D.C. -- making D.C. a hot spot for government funded "artists," but not nearly as hot as San Francisco.

New Hampshire, which has two congressional districts, got exactly one NEA stimulus grant -- worth $50,000.

The NEA also gave $50,000 stimulus grants to exactly one private arts organization in each of Alaska, Hawaii, Delaware and Kansas. In Wyoming, the NEA gave exactly one private arts organization a $25,000 stimulus grant.

In Puerto Rico, the NEA gave one private art organization a $50,000 stimulus grant.

The winners of these stimulus grants, the NEA says, were chosen by panels of independent experts, who were themselves selected by NEA "discipline directors" who each oversee NEA grant-making in "disciplines" such as "arts education," "dance," "music," "folk and traditional arts," and "film/radio/television."

Neither in San Francisco nor anywhere else did members of Congress have any input on who would receive the grants.

"Grants were awarded on the basis of artistic excellence and artistic merit," says NEA spokeswoman Victoria Hutter. "Political affiliation was not a part of that process at all."

San Francisco apparently just tends to produce the kind of artists who know how to apply for NEA grants and who are deemed by the NEA's panelists as being uniquely qualified to win support from U.S. taxpayers.

In fact, organizations could not even apply for an NEA stimulus grant unless they had already been awarded an NEA grant between 2006 and 2009. The NEA's guidelines for the stimulus awards said that "eligible organizations will be limited to those who previously received a grant from the NEA starting with fiscal year 2006 and through those approved for 2009."

So what types of arts organizations won grants in San Francisco? Leaving aside the fundamental question of whether the federal government has the constitutional authority to take money from taxpayers in Oklahoma and give it to private arts organizations in San Francisco, some of the grantees were relatively non-controversial, including, for example, the San Francisco Symphony and the Asian Art Museum Foundation.

Other San Francisco-based grant winners had innocuous names like "Circuit Network," which won $25,000 in stimulus money.

"Over the past two decades, Circuit has been instrumental in the successful careers of such well-known artists as Contraband, Culture Clash, Guillermo Gomez-Pena/La Pocha Nostra and James Luna, booking national and international engagements, providing organizational development services and working with represented artists and venues to produce events locally in San Francisco," says Circuit Network's website.

Circuit Network's website urges visitors to "Visit La Pocha Nostra's website" and provides a link.

On La Poche Nostra's website, the group explains one of its "live performance."

"In the first hour of the performance, the experience is purely voyeuristic, as the ethno-cyborgs create slow motion emblematic tableaux variants," says part of the description. "Our ritualized actions sample and mix radical political imagery, religious iconography, 'extreme' pop culture, sports, racially orientated fashion and theatricalized sexuality. Symbolic sexuality is everywhere. Some performers feel inclined to eroticize political violence and even war, while other utilize performative sexuality as syntax to gel religion and politics, or as a means to invert power relations and media images of demonized 'Otherness.'"

Later in the description, the website says: "We can't stress enough that the nature of this play is strictly symbolic and never crosses over to include actual sexual acts. Sometimes it becomes necessary to point this out, even to the audience."

The money for special NEA stimulus grants was tucked away on page 57 of the final text of the $787-page stimulus bill.

After President Obama signed that monstrosity, many Americans adopted the mantra: Read the bill!

Now they should read where the money in the bill went.

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