NEA Enters This Century, Decides to Fund Digital Art and Video Games

Don’t get your hopes up for a government-sponsored “Grand Theft Auto: Capital Hill.”

NEA Enters This Century, Decides to Fund Digital Art and Video Games

The National Endowment for the Arts must be looking to fix its stodgy, old-school image, because they recently announced their plans to fund digital media, which by their definition includes art for the web and mobile technologies, video games, arts content delivered via satellite, and radio and television.

It’s a move that makes them seem more relevant, and as an added bonus, will probably irritate the exact group of uptight Republicans that already wants to defund them. Win-win.

For the Roger Ebert types who balk at the idea of video games being funded by the NEA, stand back. There are guidelines in place that will keep violent games out of the running, and they will only fund works that they consider to be art. As usual, their definition of what is art is basically “we’ll know it when we see it.”

This new category, called Arts in Media, is actually a pretty good idea. It could help bring the NEA’s image into this century, possibly separating it from the “we like to fund symphonies and Shakespeare” thing they’ve had going on for years. It might be a desperate plea to stay with the times, but if it pulls them into this millennium, then desperation is worth it.

As new classes of artists are growing up and trying to work, their media of choice will shift toward the modern. It’s going to include digital work and, yes, even video games. The knee-jerk reaction is to think of shoot-em-ups and war games and say, “that’s not art,” but games — which are subject to the same standards as other media by the NEA — are just one of many new categories they’re recognizing. It doesn’t mean all games are suddenly a government-accepted and legitimized form of artwork, it just means they could be. It means the medium is now one of a long list and individual pieces may or may not be “art.”

A lot of people don’t see why the arts need funding at all, which is incredibly sad. It’s not the idea of the NEA that’s been a problem — societies need art to express and document themselves — it’s the agency’s apparent inability to keep up. As time passes, the ways people express themselves change, and a major funding entity needs to change with it. Of course, many artists will want nothing to do with the government, which is fine, but the country shouldn’t abandon art. It should stay on top of its changing face. The NEA still feels a little outdated, sure, but at least this is a step in the right direction.

Of course, the digital video embedded in the NEA site that explains the new grant is ironically bad. It’s informative, sure, but it’s also choppy and just a talking head. So maybe they aren’t completely up to speed on the digital realm. Let’s hope the pieces they fund are better.