The NEA’s Misguided Populism

The National Endowment for the Arts is taking an ambitious but misguided step with its plan to bring Shakespeare to the hinterlands, says Michael Phillips. “Class is a commodity like any other, and with the Shakespeare touring projects the NEA is spending more than $2 million on a classy image makeover. These days the NEA does not concern itself much with tossing seed money to artists or companies who may be controversial or risky or untested. In [NEA chairman Dana]Gioia’s words, the agency intends to focus on bringing ‘art of indisputable excellence to all Americans.’ It sounds right. It sounds inclusive, and unassailably democratic. Yet somehow a Shakespeare initiative sounds like an investment in yesterday’s culture, not tomorrow’s.”