Oh, if only I were head of the NEA! The mighty power I would wield, at the helm of a cultural institution whose annual budget is less than half of one-hundredth of 1 percent of the U.S. military's. (Alternate yardstick I noticed recently, in comparing pie charts: The NEA budget is about the size of a recent U.S. Department of Transportation program dealing exclusively with traffic congestion.) On the one hand, we could bemoan this fig leaf-like paucity of dollars -- oh, what will happen, particularly in a depression, to the various Smithsonian medals and touring chamber ensembles and archival recordings of long-dead American jazz masters or whatever else it is the NEA is always earnestly, fustily and obscurely busy doing? (The mistake of throwing a few dollars to obscene, Jesse Helms-baiting NEA Four performance artists is now far, far in the past.)

We could bemoan the fact that in America, as opposed to, say, Italy (a tiny country whose national arts budget is three times the NEA's), national "culture" isn't -- and has never been -- a priority.

On the other hand, given that we will never catch up with our Western peers (Germany has 28 times more opera houses than us), perhaps America's greatest arts potential is, finally, to be less like Old Europe and possibly more like Bali, the land where, legendarily, everyone makes art. Even the children make art -- although, of course, this would require turning off the endless chatter of TVs and computers and Wiis. No, currently, our national culture is Disney and Sony and Nintendo and hence, due to cultural harm perpetrated by crimping our children's imaginations, I suggest those entertainment corporations pay a .5% arts tax that is redirected into things like required free piano lessons for all American children. With -- Hey! A play-along CD by Wynton Marsalis. Why not?

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