A Question of Morality: Artists' Values and Public Funding for the Arts


  • Gregory B. Lewis,

    1. Gregory B. Lewis is a professor of public administration and urban studies at Georgia State University and director of the joint PhD program in public policy of Georgia State and the Georgia Institute of Technology. His research focuses on the effects of race, sex, sexual orientation, and other personal and organizational characteristics on the careers of public employees. E-mail: glewis@gsu.edu.
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  • Arthur C. Brooks

    1. Arthur C. Brooks is an associate professor of public administration at Syracuse University's Maxwell School and director of the nonprofit studies program at the Alan K. Campbell Public Affairs Institute. His research focuses on philanthropy, cultural policy, and the economics of nonprofit organizations. E-mail: acbrooks@maxwell.syr.edu.
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In 1989, the combination of art, religion, homosexuality, ana1 public dollars set off an explosive two-year battle and a decade of skirmishes over funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. To promote artistic freedom and to avoid political controversy, federal arts policy delegates specific funding decisions to private donors and arts professionals. In an era of morality politics—hot-button issues driven by deeply held beliefs rather than by expertise—that strategy no longer works. Artists, donors, and arts audiences diverge widely from the rest of the American public in their attitudes toward religion, sexual morality, and civil liberties, as General Social Survey data show. Delegating funding decisions to them has naturally led to some subsidies of art offensive to important segments of the population.