Arts Under Fire

From Alabama to Wyoming, the National Endowment for the Arts supports a wide variety of programs in every state of the union. Sadly, it may all be coming to an end.


ABOVE: Current logo for the National Endowment for the Arts

Created by the U.S. Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is an independent government agency that, according to its website, “gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities.” This is done largely through the awarding of grants, and since its inception, the NEA has given more than $5 billion dollars to various artists and arts organizations across the United States (it stopped giving grants to individual artists in the 1990’s).

Predictably, the agency is not without its critics, and throughout the years, many have objected to its choice of grant recipients and sought to defund it. While the NEA’s budget has shrunk over time, it is rumored that the next federal budget will eliminate it entirely. Here’s hoping that doesn’t happen.

By the numbers: 

Total net cost of Department of Defense for 2015: $573.6 billion

Total net cost of Department of Education for 2015: $44.7 billion

Total net cost of Environmental Protection Agency for 2015: $8.6 billion

Source: U.S. Government Statement of Net Cost for the Year Ended September 30, 2015


National Endowment for the Arts 2015 budget: $146 million

Source: NEA 2015 Annual Report


Cost Trump Organization paid to redevelop former NEA headquarters: $200 million

Source: Trump International Hotel – Washington D.C.


Funded by the NEA:

Snow City Arts Foundation (aka Snow City Arts)

$20,000 Chicago, IL

To support Arts Education for Children and Youth in Hospitals. Professional teaching artists will provide workshops in creative writing, music, theater, media arts, and visual arts for children and youth in pediatric units in Chicago hospitals that work in conjunction with each student’s creative interests and abilities. Workshops happen either bedside or in the hospital-based Idea Labs, which house art supplies, art libraries, musical instruments, and electronic media equipment. Comprehensive progress reports are produced for each student and are sent to students’ schools for credit.

Focus: HOPE

$10,000 Detroit, MI

To support the Excel Photography Program. Students from underserved communities in Detroit will learn technical and artistic photographic skills from professional photographers using digital single-lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. An exhibition of students’ work with accompanying artist biographies and statements will be featured at the Focus: HOPE Gallery throughout the program. The culminating activity for this project will include public photography installations on abandoned houses in Detroit neighborhoods and a graduation ceremony for students.

California Lawyers for the Arts, Inc.

$35,000 San Francisco, CA

To support artist residencies in county jails. The organization will provide technical assistance, recruitment and training of artists, and program outreach to local law enforcement. It will work with local arts agencies in several California communities to enable the inclusion of arts programming as a rehabilitative tool in county jails.

Source: National Endowment for the Arts FY 2017 Fall Grant Announcement

Some of My Favorite Art Exhibitions

I love art exhibitions, and through the years, I’ve had the pleasure of seeing some really great ones. Of them all, here are three of my favorites – in no particular order.


ABOVE: Scott Hocking, The Reptile Room: Mercury Retrograde, installation


SiTE:LAB @ 54 Jefferson (formerly the Grand Rapids Public Museum)

Grand Rapids, Michigan

In 2012, SiTE:LAB took over the former home of the Grand Rapids Public Museum and filled the space with the work of 18 artists. The building, which was vacated in 1994, still contained a number of its dioramas and exhibits, and they, along with the artist’s installations, provided the viewer with a truly unique experience. It was surreal and creepy, and, it was the top venue at Artprize 2012.


ABOVE: Ai Weiwei, Straight, installation


Ai Weiwei: According to What? (Art Gallery of Ontario)

Toronto, Ontario

Having followed Weiwei’s exploits in the news, I was super excited to see this politically charged exhibition. Everything on display was deep, but I especially liked Straight (pictured above), which consisted of 150 tons of rebar recovered from schools that had collapsed in the Sichuan earthquake. They were all straightened, and on the wall behind them, were the names of the students who lost their lives in the quake. Heavy.


ABOVE: Gabriel Dawe, Plexus A1, installation


Wonder (Renwick Gallery)

Washington D.C.

In 2015, after a two-year renovation, the Renwick Gallery opened its doors to Wonder, an immersive exhibition featuring the work of 9 artists. Each was given a room to create a site specific installation, and the entire building became one immersive artwork. As the title suggests, it was a wonderful space to spend an hour two, and, judging by the long lineups to get in, it was a big hit with the locals too.

Art in the U.S Capitol

Last week, I wrote about my trip to Washington D.C. This week, I’m going to write about all the art galleries I visited. If you’re an art lover like me, this city is for for you.


ABOVE: Pierre-Auguste Renior, Luncheon of the Boating Party, 1880-81, oil on canvas, 51 x 68 inches (as seen at the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C.)

BELOW: Beverly Pepper, Ex Cathedra, 1967, sculpture, 101.5 x 90 x 83 inches (as seen at the Hirshhorn Sculpture Garden in Washington D.C.)

Whatever your taste, there is a ton of art and culture on display in Washington D.C. Here are my thoughts on the galleries I visited.

American Art Museum

A stellar museum all round, but where it really shines is in the contemporary art department – arguably the best D.C. has to offer in that regard.

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Looks like a small gallery from the ground level, but, as looks are often deceiving, contains several floors underground. Houses a wide variety of Asian art and artifacts.

Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden

The city’s best designed art museum – all galleries should be this simple to navigate. It’s permanent collection of international contemporary art is excellent, as is it’s sculpture garden.

National Gallery of Art

By far, the best gallery in D.C. Not much in the way of contemporary art, but incredible everywhere else. It’s sculpture garden, which does include contemporary work, is awesome too.

National Museum of African Art

Like the Sackler, most exhibitions are housed underground. And, like the Sackler, it’s definitely worth a visit. Takes about an hour.

National Museum of Women in the Arts

Open since 1897, the NMWA is the only museum in America dedicated exclusively to female artists. It hosts traveling exhibitions in addition to it’s permanent collection, which includes work by Cassatt and Kahlo.

National Portrait Gallery

Sharing a beautiful atrium with the American Art Museum, this gallery is full of famous faces. The official presidential portraits are themselves worth the trip.

The Phillips Collection

America’s first modern art museum packs a lot of star power into a small space. Some of the best art in the city.

Renwick Gallery

A small gallery across from the White House. Not sure about it’s permanent collection, but the temporary exhibition we saw was wonderful.

The Wonders of Washington D.C.

Whatever your interest, there’s no shortage of things to do and see in Washington D.C. If anything, you’ll run out of time long before you’ve managed to see it all.


From Capitol Hill and the National Mall, to the many museums and galleries in between, Washington D.C. has a ton to offer. Over the course of one week, I ran myself ragged, nearly killed my girlfriend in the process, and lost 5 pounds. But, to my credit, I saw almost everything. Here’s a brief post on that.

Like many, our first stop was the White House. Inside or out, the world’s most famous residence is a must see, but if you’re unable to see it inside (we weren’t), then you’ll definitely want to check out it’s visitor center. It’s a small museum, but it gives you a lot of interesting info on the place.

Next up, was the National Mall. It takes a couple hours to see everything, but it contains some of Washington’s most powerful symbols, among them the Washington, Lincoln and Vietnam War Memorial’s. If possible, visit once during the day, then again at night. The photo opportunities are endless.

Owing to a sketchy weather report, we decided to do all the outdoor stuff early in the week, so we hopped on the subway, and went on a tour of Arlington Cemetery with DC By Foot. It was incredible. I really cannot say enough about how impressed we were with both the cemetery, and our tour guide. From there, we walked to the The United States Marine Corps War Memorial, then hopped back on the subway and visited the The National 9/11 Pentagon Memorial. Needless to say, our second day in Washington D.C. was a powerful and memorable one.

Day three was spent touring the National ArchivesCapitol Hill, and the Library of Congress. The archive building, which house the Bill of Rights, Constitution, and Declaration of Independence is a quick but necessary see. Capitol Hill, while under construction, is still worth the free tour, and the Library of Congress is absolutely spectacular. We had no idea it was so beautiful inside.

Having spent the first few days exploring mostly outdoors, we decided to tackle the many museums and galleries D.C. has to offer, and over the next few days, saw 16 of them. To keep things short, I’ll write a review of all the art galleries at a later date, and focus instead on the other institutions we visited. The Smithsonian Museums of American History, Natural History and Air and Space are the top three, but all the others are great too. Of the non-Smithsonians, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum was by far the most impactful. Emotionally draining, but impactful.

With our week coming to a close, we squeezed in a tour of the U.S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing, where they produce billions of dollars a year, then spent our last afternoon taking a self-guided tour of Georgetown, which, if you can swing it, I highly suggest.

A few final thoughts: Washington D.C. is a safe, clean, and friendly little city with enough history and culture to rival the oldest, and largest cities in the world. It is truly a bucket list destination.

The Lansdowne Portrait

Next month, I will be visiting the National Portrait Gallery in Washington D.C. Of all the paintings on display, I’m most excited to see the Lansdowne Portrait by Gilbert Stuart.


ABOVE: Gilbert Stuart, George Washington (Lansdowne Portrait), 1796, oil on canvas, 96 x 60 inches, National Portrait Gallery, Washington D.C.

Commissioned in 1796 by Senator William Bingham of Pennsylvania, the Lansdowne Portrait is one of the most iconic works by renowned portraitist Gilbert Stuart. It shows a 64 year old George Washington at the end of his second term in office.

The gigantic painting, which measures 8 x 5 feet, was gifted to English statesman William Petty for his role in bringing the American War of Independence to an end. As Petty’s official title was the 1st Marquess of Lansdowne, the portrait came to bear his name.

In addition to the original, Stuart painted several replicas, one of which was purchased by the U.S. Government. That painting was later rescued from the White House shortly before British soldiers set it on fire in the War of 1812. First Lady Dolley Madison is often credited with its rescue.

While the replica still hangs in the East Room of the White House, and copies by other artists can be found in the U.S. House of Representatives and on Capitol Hill, the original hangs in the National Portrait Gallery. It was donated to the gallery after being purchased for $20 million in 2001.

The Lansdowne Portrait is at the top of my list of things to see while in Washington D.C.

Watson and the Shark

This spring, I will be visiting the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. Of all it’s masterpieces, I’m most excited to see John Singleton Copley’s Watson and the Shark.


ABOVE: John Singleton Coply, Watson and the Shark, 1778, oil on canvas, 72 x 90.5 inches, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Painted in 1778, Watson and the Shark depicts the rescue of Brook Watson from a shark attack in Havana, Cuba.

The attack took place in 1749, and Watson, who was a fourteen year old cabin boy at the time, lost his leg before being pulled to safety.

Several years later, he became friends with Copley, and commissioned him to make a painting of the incident. Copley made three, the original of which resides in the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C.

I can’t wait to see it.