During the past quarter-century, the United States has seen something of an artistic renaissance. Across the country, museums attract good crowds, and theaters are often sold out. Music and dance lovers have an unprecedented number of events to choose from. Meanwhile, for those too far from cities to attend events in person, many of these great performances can be seen on public television stations. It is even possible these days for young people to dream of a career in the arts -- a career that will actually allow them to earn a living wage. Compare these opportunities to the artistic fare in Baltimore and other communities 25 years ago, and you have some idea of the effect the National Endowment for the Arts has had on American life.
For over a year, the NEA has been the subject of a raucous debate between its defenders and critics who charge that the endowment is guilty of funding pornography in two of its grants. That debate appears now to be heading toward a satisfactory compromise. Last week the House of Representatives gave overwhelming approval to a measure that would extend the life of the NEA for three years while leaving the question of obscenity to the courts -- which is exactly where such judgments belong. A similar measure awaits action in the Senate, but the wide margin of approval it received in the House -- 382 to 42 -- suggests that this compromise is a satisfactory ending to a searing debate.