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Met Museum Director Makes The Case For The NEA In New York Times Op-Ed

Feb 22, 2017

Thomas Colligan

Four years ago, in a small warehouse in central China, a team of Chinese archaeologists showed me objects that they had unearthed from a nearby ancient tomb. Laid out on a folding table was an exquisite array of vases, ritual vessels and a set of heart-stoppingly beautiful silver gilt tigers and dragons that fit in the palm of my hand, perhaps part of a long-forgotten regal board game.

These finds were a keyhole through which we could glimpse the sophistication of the Han dynasty rulers, who, 2,000 years ago, conquered and united the enormous region that was to become modern-day China.

This week, curators and conservators from the Metropolitan Museum of Art are in Beijing working with Chinese colleagues to pack these and other objects for transportation to New York, where they will be featured in an exhibition this spring. Supported in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the exhibition, “Age of Empires,” will teach our visitors about the origins of China, the superpower that is now playing a major role in the balance of world power and trade.

Although the N.E.A. grant was a small part of the exhibition’s overall budget, it was crucial in persuading others to add their support. Similar grants have helped the Met mount exhibitions on the art of Jerusalem, India, Korea, Islam, Africa and Afghanistan.

Sadly, it has become clear that the N.E.A. is, once again, under threat of being abolished, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities. The purported reason is cost savings.

All too often, art is seen as a “soft” subject, the first thing to be cut, whether by local school boards or the federal government, when money is tight. But looked at purely in dollars, it is a false saving. The N.E.A.’s budget is comparatively minuscule — $148 million last year, or 0.004 percent of annual federal discretionary expenditures — while the arts sector it supports employs millions of Americans and generates billions each year in revenue and tax dollars.