Lawrence Dillon@Sequenza21.com

"There are no two points so distant from one another that they cannot be connected by a single straight line -- and an infinite number of curves."

Composer Lawrence Dillon has produced an extensive body of work, from brief solo pieces to a full-length opera. Three disks of his music are due out in 2010 on the Bridge, Albany and Naxos labels. In the past year, he has had commissions from the Emerson String Quartet, the Cassatt String Quartet, the Mansfield Symphony, the Boise Philharmonic, the Salt Lake City Symphony, the Ravinia Festival, the Daedalus String Quartet, the Kenan Institute for the Arts, the University of Utah and the Idyllwild Symphony Orchestra.

Although he lost 50% of his hearing in a childhood illness, Dillon began composing as soon as he started piano lessons at the age of seven. In 1985, he became the youngest composer to earn a doctorate at The Juilliard School, and was shortly thereafter appointed to the Juilliard faculty. Dillon is now Composer in Residence at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, where he has served as Music Director of the Contemporary Ensemble, Assistant Dean of Performance, and Interim Dean of the School of Music. He was the Featured American Composer in the February 2006 issue of Chamber Music magazine.


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Thursday, February 16, 2006
Funding the NEA

I have wanted to write about this idea for a long time. The recent discussion on the Forum page makes me think this is as good a time as any.

How should we fund the arts? Currently the arts in this country have three principal sources for funding: government support, private donations and ticket/sales receipts. In an ideal situation, all three of these sources would be seen as valid components to building a healthy culture. The problem is finding the right balance.

But that question is for another day. Right now Iím confining myself to one facet of the problem: how can federal support for the arts be funded more consistently and with greater benefit to the general taxpayer?

As currently structured, the National Endowment for the Arts relies on the good graces of politicians to vote for its budget every year. In other words, itís not an endowment, itís a line item. As many musicians are painfully aware, itís very difficult to run any enterprise if you canít plan more than one year in advance. Next year might be business as usual; the year after, your budget might be cut in half.

The solution? Turn the NEA into a real endowment.

Hereís a plan: Quintuple the NEA budget for five years. Over the course of those five years, invest 4/5 of the budget.

Then, after the five years are up, eliminate arts funding from the annual federal budget, and let the NEA operate off of the income from its investments.

Downside Ė From what weíve been told, quintupling the budget would be way too costly Ė we can hardly afford the budget we have. But itís really not as difficult as it sounds. We donít even have to touch the 450 billion dollar defense budget, which of course is being spent very wisely.

Hereís what you would have to do: ask every US citizen to contribute $1.65 a year for five years. Thatís all it would take. After that, the tax bite would be zilch.

Upside -
- NEA budget would be stabilized and predictable, relatively speaking, for the long term, and reflect the general health of the economy.
- NEA resources that are currently employed in making the annual case for survival could be put to running the NEA more effectively. As someone who is annually involved in the process of making that case on a state level, I can testify that itís a huge drain of resources that could otherwise be spent on art.
- The endowment fund (roughly 2.4 billion) could be invested in the national economy, which would help everyone.
- After five years, the NEA would no longer be portrayed (falsely, but effectively, in my opinion) as a burden on taxpayers.
- People who are so inclined could always make tax-deductible gifts to the NEA endowment, so that it could grow through private support over time.

Again, this isnít meant to solve all of the problems of arts funding, just one nagging difficulty. I figure there must be some legal reason why this plan wonít work, and this blog is the best place for me to find out. If you know of a reason why it isnít possible, please let me know in the comment box below. Iím not so interested in philosophizing about the benefits and drawbacks to federal funding Ė with which we are all familiar -- as I am in learning about any legal obstacles that might exist. I figure even if this is politically impossible in the USA, it might be made to work elsewhere.