Do consumers know enough to assess the true value of art? A study of beliefs and attitudes toward the NEA

DOIhttp://doi.org/10.1002/pa.1654
AuthorGary Ottley,Richard Hanna
Published date01 May 2018
Date01 May 2018
SPECIAL ISSUE PAPER
Do consumers know enough to assess the true value of art?
A study of beliefs and attitudes toward the NEA
Gary Ottley |Richard Hanna
Marketing Division, Babson College, Babson
Park, Massachusetts, USA
Correspondence
Gary Ottley, Babson College, Malloy Hall, 231
Forest Street, Babson Park, MA 02457, USA.
Email: gottley@babson.edu
Contemporary society tends to ascribe economic value to works of art, often neglecting the
inherent cultural and social value of art in favor of an aesthetically driven conceptualization of
value.The largest single financial supporter of nonprofit arts and arts education in the United
Statesthe National Endowment of the Artsis charged with supporting arts of all types, and
not just those that the general public decides are of aesthetic or monetary value. This paper
compares how the government of the United States funds nonprofit art initiatives through the
National Endowment of the Arts, with how members of the American public perceive the
importance and value of art being funded. It provides evidence of beliefs held by the general
public about the inherent role and value of the arts in contemporary society. It also offers
suggestions for how marketing principles and techniques might be engaged to reduce gaps in
the public's knowledge about the arts.
1|INTRODUCTION AND CONTEXT
Works of art have been produced and consumedby humans for
centuries, as evidenced by cave paintings and other found objects from
the earliest signs of man. Today, we continue to celebrate artor at
least, its more obvious and commercially viable manifestations. But
what value do the citizens of a country place on the arts and on art
as an institution? We place art in museums for any and everyone to
look at and consume.We pay to see plays, presentations, and
exhibitions curated and judged by experts to be worthy of financial
compensation. Modern society and cultures are defined, at least in
part, by the art they produce, and deem of value.Yet, contributions
and support for the arts in the United States tends to be lower than
in many other nations (Gummow, 2014).
Prior to 1965, the United States had no policy concerning the arts.
Unlike many other developed and developing countries, the United
States has never had a Ministry of Culture or anything similaruntil
the establishment of the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) in
1965. Since then, the NEA has fostered and supported the creation
of art and art culture in the United States, emphasizing connections
to state and local art initiatives (Kammen, 1996). It is the official arts
agency of the United States government and the single largest financial
contributor to the arts in the United States. As such, it is subject to
scrutiny and critique by the population that the United States
government serves. Because it attempts to fairly allocate funds to
various forms of art and art education, it has, since its inception, come
under fire for the types and forms of art on which it chooses to spend
taxpayer funds (Bauerlein & Grantham, 2009). Yet it persists, despite
efforts to actively defund and disband it.
The overarching purpose of this paper is to reconcile how
members of a contemporary society ascribes value to the arts, with
how their government allocates funding and resources to their
development and promulgation. We do so by comparing how the
government of the United States funds nonprofit art initiatives
through the NEA, with how members of the American public perceive
the importance and value of art being funded. Through a small study,
we provide evidence of prevailing beliefs held by the general public:
about the role and purpose of the NEA and its funding; about how
NEA funding compares to other governmentfunded arts programs in
other countries; and about how the NEA allocates public funds in the
execution of its mandate. We use these commonly held beliefs as
proxy indicators of how the general American public values the arts
and specifically, which arts.
In this paper, we first briefly describe the mandate of the NEA and
the role it plays in the promotion and celebration of art. Then, we use
Bourdieu's theory of the artistic field to frame a review of how human
society ascribes value to art. Following this, we present the method
and results of a survey of interested consumers of art, which was
designed to compare NEA fund allocations with their personal views
on what constitutes valuein the world of the arts. We end the paper
with a discussion of the study's findings and implications for going
forward.
DOI: 10.1002/pa.1654
J Public Affairs. 2018;18:e1654.
https://doi.org/10.1002/pa.1654
Copyright © 2017 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.wileyonlinelibrary.com/journal/pa 1of8

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