Woke has now become prevalent. Government departments, private companies, schools and universities incorporate its rhetoric in their policies, workplace culture and teachings. While some heterodox pundits and intellectuals are busy debating its validity, parents are left to deal with the indoctrination of their children on their own and employers and employees have to contend with matters of censure and censorship. What of the broader culture, and the industries that create and produce the cultural narratives that influence all of us to some degree, and in turn, shape the institutions we build or take part in?
Today I will shed light on how woke ideology has inundated our cultural industries, and the seemingly endless funding at its disposal. This article is split into two parts, the first one focuses on America while the second one is in Canada. The reasoning for this is simple: many people who hold positions in the cultural industries are Canadians working in American institutions and many Americans have graduated from Canadian universities, and vice versa for both. Countless films and television series are produced in Canada, while Canadian TV series, actors, musicians, and filmmakers have gone on and won the highest awards in America. Our societies are very similar, and we consume and enjoy culture in the same fashion. The funding model slightly differs in both countries, but, as you will soon discover, woke ideology now prevails within all organizations which make for one unified cultural ecosystem.
Public funding in America
For individual artists (IA) and non-profit organizations (NPO) that support them, most funding and grants come from both the public coffer and private organizations, such as foundations. Public money comes from three levels of funding: national, state, and local. In 2018, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the federal agency tasked with funding excellence in the arts, received $155M in appropriations from the federal government. The states allocated a further $370.5M to funding the arts, while municipal and county government contributions totaled $860M. For that year, American taxpayers provided a total of about $1.4B towards culture.
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Private funding in America
Private funding from foundations goes much further. In the same year, eighty-six thousand (86,000) private organizations handed out grants with funding that amounted to $80.7B. This number only reflects funding that was given to NPO and doesn’t take into account IA, unincorporated activities, earned income, and individual or corporate donations. Despite a two-decade-long downward trend from the local and state appropriations, mainly due to not keeping up with inflation, the funding of culture is in great shape.
New Music USA
New Music USA (NMU) is a New York City-based NPO that offers support to individuals, groups, and other organizations in the music space. Its programs are involved in jazz, orchestral music, film composition, and more. For the fiscal year 2019-2020, it reported revenues of $2.45M, which came from foundations, endowments, and individuals; public funding coming in fourth.
Its action statement is clear. NMU stands for anti-racism and against bigotry, oppression, and inequalities. Its equity and inclusion principles and their corresponding initiatives are the heart of its strategic plan. Furthermore, they will only partner with organizations that share their values, will examine the makeup of their leadership, and support other funders in their efforts to become more inclusive and equitable in their grantmaking activities. The NMU feels that: “As a national cultural organization, we have the power and the responsibility to push for social change.”
One look at their programs is all you need to see that they mean it.
New Music USA – Private funding
The biggest private contributor to the NMU is the Andrew M. Mellon Foundation. It is the largest American foundation in terms of funding the arts, with an annual total contribution of $193M. The letter from the foundation’s president that accompanied their 2020 annual report couldn’t make their intentions any clearer. It is the year where they shifted their assessment of their work in the arts to operate through the lens of social justice. For her part, the executive director highlighted a great many efforts in her own letter, among them, a grant to the Vice President of Social Impact at the Kennedy Center in DC, in support of his efforts to make “anti-racism” structural. She was also very pleased about the support they provide to an L.A.-based community center that serves as a space for both art and activism, and their funding comes with the hope that the center’s model can be scaled. The letter is infused with the desire to use their funding to affect profound institutional changes that will lead to a more ‘equitable’ and ‘inclusive’ future. It is no surprise they support the NMU.
Another example is the Sphinx Venture Fund. Although they only offer programs geared toward culture, they consider themselves to be a social justice organization. In 2020, its income was $6.3M with at least $1 million that came from the Mellon Foundation. The first item found in its annual report focuses on the quadrupling of its Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) reach through its programs, and Sphinx Venture prided itself for being featured on four occasions in New York Times articles that highlighted organizations and their DEI efforts.
The last example is the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. Its net assets at the end of 2020 were valued at $2.28B and, since 1997, the foundation supported the arts with grants totaling $352M. The foundation is fully committed to DEI, complete with its group tasked with organizing ongoing workshops, lectures, and readings for the benefit of the personal and professional development of its staff. The foundation also wishes to see its commitment reflected in the grantees, museums, and centers they support.
New Music USA – Public funding
First on the list is the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs. As part of mayor Di Blasio’s vision for a more “equitable” city, the Department launched an initiative in 2015 to promote diversity among the staff, boards, and audiences of cultural organizations. Although the Department’s website is not steeped in the language of DEI, the vast majority of members on their current advisory commission are part of organizations that now adhere to DEI principles, like the Ford Foundation, The Rockefeller Brothers Fund, Barnard College, and, of course, the Mellon Foundation.
On the state level, the NMU receives funding from the New York State Council on the Arts. Yet again, on the surface, the Council’s website appears fairly neutral, but digging a bit deeper reveals an ideological underbelly. Firstly, you have language in their third round of grants application, which explicitly states that priority will be given to applicants that serve historically underrepresented communities. The application guidelines don’t offer more details on their priority and who exactly is included or potentially excluded. Even though the round is titled “Organizational and Individual Artist Support”, the Council does not fund IA directly. To be eligible as one, you need to be sponsored by an NPO, which will then award you the grant if you win the round.
On the resources page, you can find a short text that officialize the Council’s adherence and promotion of DEI practices. Adding to this is a statement on their unwavering belief in Black Lives Matter’s mission, which consists of a highly politicized collection of semi-affiliated organizations that have come under criticism for financial mismanagement, and questionable statements by some of their leadership. The resources on offer range from websites, articles, media, and tools for organizational change. The books section is more telling, it is a cornucopia of woke activist bibles such as “White Fragility” by Robin DiAngelo, “Decolonizing Wealth” by Edgar Villanueva , “Me and White Supremacy” by Layla Saad, and an increasingly controversial text, “How to Be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi.
Last, the NMU is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Yet again, the surface seems neutral, but one of the NEA core functions is research. Last year it unveiled a new research agenda for 2022-2026, and chief among their priorities is the state of DEI; “how organizations diagnose and address inequities in their practices”, “how does DEI impact the decision-making process when they commit to an equity agenda”, “what are the costs and opportunities associated with adopting, or failing to adopt such strategies”, and more.
This seems like it could go either way, but at least it doesn’t have an impact on their current grant-making decisions. That being said, the current chair, in her introduction, emphasized her dedication to inclusivity first. As well, she released a statement on this year’s black history month, and she believes that inequities are “systemic” and is on board with the fierce commitment to racial equity from the current federal administration. The NEA’s chair is a presidential nomination. Is this a sign of the agency’s direction under her leadership or PR words? Time will tell.
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Patronage has lost its way
The Medici family ruled over Florence and Tuscany for over 300 years between the 15th and 18th century. At the height of their power, the family’s fortune reached an estimated $130B. Their greatest contribution came from their love of beauty, which prompted them to patron a great many artists, architects, and scientists, such as Botticelli, Michelangelo, Raphael, Galileo, and Leonardo da Vinci, just to name a few. To this day, the output generated by their patronage is studied and inspires young artists the world over, across numerous societies.
The Medicis didn’t spend all their fortune on the arts and the spending occurred over long periods, but the cultural output that came from their support remains notable even to this day, both in quantity and artistic quality. Fast forward to the present day, we now know that in America, close to $100B a year is spent on culture from public and private sources alone. Given this enormous amount of resources, prompts a valid question: Why aren’t we drowning in a culture overflowing with staggering beauty and achievements?
Now that the woke takeover of our cultural industries is complete, their obsession with activism, identity, and their antagonism toward any concept of merit have free rein and, in turn, they have and will continue to waste billions of dollars promoting this ideology. In doing so, countless artists are neglected, individuals who simply seek to create art without having to become warriors in a political culture war driven by a toxic ideology that only furthers division, exclusion and inequality. Now that the funding programs on offer have become skewed by ideology, creativity itself is de-prioritized, for the contrived, the political, and can no longer be considered culture but propaganda.
Artistic Merit, or “Meritocracy”
In ancient Greece, beauty and truth were paramount and art was used to incorporate true ideals into the daily lives of its citizens. For instance, in sculptures, the Greeks expressed themselves by championing realism, which was all about balance and harmony, in their depiction of both their gods as well as ordinary men and women.
During the Baroque period, Bach pushed the concepts of counterpoint, melody and harmony to unmatched levels. Händel brought Italian opera to its highest development stage, and Vivaldi’s body of work was as impressive (500 concertos and choral works) as the influence he had on his contemporaries.
In Hollywood during the 1950s, film directors such as Alfred Hitchcock and Billy Wilder were at their peak, and a young photographer by the name of Stanley Kubrick started to make short films.
Now imagine if the Greeks, the music patrons in the Baroque period and Hollywood producers in the 50s were driven by woke ideology, representation or identity. What would’ve happened?
Do you believe the Greeks would have pursued their understanding of the world if their need for realism was viewed upon as privileged, inequitable or racist by the supposed high priests of morality? To them, if they cannot represent humans in a realistic fashion, how can they aspire to search for true ideals and meaning? If this drive for balance and harmony was squashed by the woke of the day, would artists and thinkers have gone on to introduce poetry, tragedy, comedy, and Western philosophy as well?
If the patrons were concerned about gender representation in music composition, would they have given a pass to the aforementioned composers and thus negatively impact the evolution of music as a whole to a level that cannot even be grasped? Ironically, this would have deprived women of opportunities, as Vivaldi wrote many compositions for the all-female music ensemble of the Ospedale della Pietà, a home for abandoned children.
If the film producers in the 50s had installed racial quotas in their production pipelines, perhaps Hitchcock and Wilder may not have had the opportunities to create their masterpieces and this may very well have led them to stop making films altogether; and Kubrick might have just been waved off by the producers. How many filmmakers wouldn’t exist today without these accomplished artists as inspiration? Can we even imagine the American cinematic landscape without their work?
Meritocracy is a universal practice that has served humanity well for eons, as it separates talented and skilled artists from the contrived and mediocre ones. It is the fuel that feeds the passion in all artists as it inspires us to do the best we can, as well as innovate and take risks when it is called for.
Unfortunately, with today’s ideological framework, we are breaking this cycle of excellence. By centering funding based on immutable characteristics instead of artistic merit and free expression, the cultural industries are embracing mediocrity, just so they can appease an activist ideology that demands cultural expression conform to shallow stereotypes. Because that culture is borne out of an ideology that is anti-individual, it loses both the unique and the universal, that is central to the artistic search for truth in the human experience.
New generations exposed to that propaganda will grow up in a meaningless culture of identity stereotypes and enforced conformity to those stereotypes. The intentional neglect of the individual and the universal in the human experience also deprives young minds of crucial life skills, particularly the critical thinking skills that are necessary as they transition into adulthood. As a result, their moral compass will be skewed by a shallow set of identity-driven values, and the ripple effect this will create can only be pondered upon with awe and terror when taken to its logical conclusions.