Ideology burrows deep into the arts in America

February 1, 2023 • 10:15 am

I’ve been involved in writing some stuff about how Social Justice ideology—following Pluckrose and Lindsay, our capitals indicate the harmful form of social justice—has infected science, like my piece the other day on Biden’s plan to foster both equity and excellence in the arts. That turned out to be a plan to foster equity, with excellence simply equated to “equity” or seen as an inevitable byproduct of equity. The more I dig into how science is interacting with culture, the more worried I get that science really is under the thumb of Social Justice, and that merit and quality are being thrown under the bus in the name of “equity”. (I refer to proportional representation by presence in the U.S., not “equality of opportunity or treatment,” which poses no threat to anything.)

This new article by Rikki Schlott (a writer and activist) at the Free Press shows how deeply the termites have already dined in the arts. In fact, every endeavor, every field of work, and every organization in America is being ideologically captured by Social Justice, and this article shows how invidious it’s been in the arts—especially theater and ballet.  I am now beginning to worry that our society is gradually transforming its culture into one resembling Stalin’s Russia, where every endeavor, including science and art, had to be done in the service of official ideology. In the end, that killed both science, much of which died a slow death under Stalin, and art, which we all know became tedious, political, and homogeneous under the same regime.

Schlott’s article also notes that in September of last year Biden signed an “Executive Order on Promoting the Arts, the Humanities, and Library Services” that is largely about advancing equity, though there are a few bits that seem to be identity-blind. But this account of what’s happening to the arts is hair-raising. It’s not due to the government, but to social pressure, to funding agencies who refuse to give money to artists unless they demonstrate a commitment to DEI, and to cultural authoritarians who, for example, refuse to hire a white sign-language interpreter to help deaf people understand words spoken by black people.

Click to read, and, as always, subscribe if you read often.  I have resubscribed and managed to keep the initial $50 price per year, though I think it’s gone up for new subscribers (in fairness, the site has hugely expanded its stable of writers):

Art can properly be political of course (“The Crucible” is one example), but now all art is forced to be political, and artistic organizations forced to adhere to prescribed DEI criteria—ideologies. The piece starts with the story of Lincoln Jones, a (white) choreographer for the American Contemporary Ballet Company (ACBC). Because he refused to politicize his organization by putting a sign of support for Black Lives Matter on the company’s Instagram account, he lost a ton of funding, and it’s not clear that the ACBC will survive. It’s not that he disapproved of BLM, but that was trying to be institutionally neutral:

“Our dancers were free to post whatever they wanted on their own social media, but I knew I wasn’t going to do it on the company account,” [Jones] said. “That’s not part of our mission.”

Then the social media pushback began, demanding that Jones adhere to BLM publicly. Some of his dancers revolted too. Then he compounded the assault by making a few statements that poured oil on the fire:

In the face of mounting pressure from the dance world, Jones sent an email to his employees clarifying his position. “American Contemporary Ballet is not a political organization,” he wrote. “Our mission is great dance. It is not our prerogative to represent each other politically.”

. . . When an agent he hired to find funding and get a director for the project told him he needed to hire dancers of color from outside his company to get the film made, Jones objected.

“One of the things I will not do is hire by race or give preference by race,” he said. “Ballet does discriminate, just not by race. This is a highly athletic art form that discriminates by body, talent, and artistic sensitivity. You have to have a certain kind of feet and proportions. It’s not just a convention. It’s like an opera singer having a loud voice.”

That’s when he began losing funding—big time. The refusal to take race into account is a slap in the face of DEI, even though it comports with Dr. King’s famous words. Even conductors who audition potential orchestra musicians behind a screen, so that neither sex nor ethnicity can be known, are being criticized explicitly because they refuse to take race and gender into account.  

Jones is in trouble, and so are the arts in general as they become politicized. There is pushback, but it’s largely anonymous because speech has been chilled.

That bargain—pledge allegiance to the new orthodoxy or stick to your mission and risk your career—is one now faced by many in the world of American fine arts.

I spoke to more than a dozen people working in dance, music, theater, and the visual arts. Some have won Pulitzer prizes. Others are just at the beginning of their careers. What they all have in common is a concern that DEI—short for diversity, equity, and inclusion, a catchall term for racial equity initiatives—is creeping into the arts and politicizing artistic expression.

But only a tiny number of those people have blown the whistle.

There are some “whistleblowers” who have gone public and even sued for being discriminated against because they were white (and got settlements), but in general people are fearful. It’s okay to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, and national origin, but only if you were a private foundation that gets no federal funding. In other cases there can be no discrimination against “protected classes.” But there is: plenty of it, and, in the article, is based on race. Comply with DEI demands or give up a career in ballet, theater, or even visual arts:

Even some artists who are far in their career are too scared to comment about the new DEI demands.

“Artists already have enough challenges, and now we have all these layers of bureaucracy and mandates,” said one Pulitzer Prize–winning creative, who asked me not to print his name or even his field because he fears reprisals. “Artists are just too vulnerable to the vagaries of funding and cultural trends. Even those who are successful just can’t risk it. A freelance artist’s career could be over tomorrow if they make a fuss.”

He said he worries about America’s new generation of artists. “I’m established. I’m far enough along in my career that it doesn’t affect me as much as it does artists in [the younger] generation.”

Brent Morden is one of them. Morden is a white, 25-year-old music and choir director in New York City. Though he’s only at the beginning of his career, he said he’s already felt the crunch of funding and lost opportunities because he doesn’t tick any diversity boxes.

“When I see commissions or opportunities that are specifically looking for females or LGBTQ or BIPOC people to apply, I just sigh, wonder what this achieves, and move on,” he said. “Artistic institutions are adopting mission statements that sound nice and virtuous, but if you dig deeper under the surface, they’re promoting an agenda that doesn’t promote true and fair diversity, equity, and inclusion.”

Two more bits for your enlightenment (I added the link to Landesman):

[Morden’s] feelings are echoed by renowned Broadway theater producer Rocco Landesman. From 2009 to 2012, Landesman served as the chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts under the Obama administration. He told me he started noticing DEI creeping into the arts world around 2013 and has “no doubt” that “we’re seeing increasingly coercive guidelines.”

Landesman said he was shocked when, in 2019, a San Francisco school board voted to paint over a mural at George Washington High School that depicted the life of America’s first president, because it was deemed offensive to black and Native Americans.

“When you have art actually being destroyed because it doesn’t fit into a certain view of the world, that’s extremely alarming,” Landesman said.

Though the board reversed its decision last year, the controversy shows how the left has turned its back on the arts in the name of pursuing diversity, Landesman said.

“It’s shocking to see that proposed by progressives. I never thought we’d come to that point—it’s an amazing turn to see liberals be literally anti-art.”

Some information about how funding for art, like funding for science, depends increasingly on adherence to specific DEI criteria:

Today, many of America’s arts funders have made social justice the criteria for grants. Of the two dozen foundations I surveyed that are based in New York and California and fund the arts, fifteen either professed allegiance to DEI principles on their websites or explicitly stated they strive for racial equity via philanthropic endeavors. Of the handful of actual grant applications I could get my hands on, several required DEI statements or demographic data from applicants.

The S. Mark Taper Foundation, for instance, which doles out roughly $6 million in grants a year focused on arts, education, and social causes, has committed itself to “a continuing examination of privilege” ensuring “grantmaking that aligns with the values of diversity, equity and inclusion.” As part of their application, each organization must provide a list of their board members’ titles, length of service, and racial and ethnic profiles.

And the Ford Foundation, one of the most influential charitable organizations in the country, boasting a $16 billion endowment, has led a group of fifteen major donors in dedicating $160 million specifically to BIPOC arts organizations.

The parallels with science are multifarious: funding organizations, social media, and other artists are demanding adherence to Social Justice standards (in science we also have deans and administrations putting the pressure on). The whole situation is summed up by Landesman:

“We’re taking first-rate artists and making them into third-rate political activists,” he said.

“Art is supposed to unsettle us; art challenges what we feel about ourselves,” he continued. “But most of the art today affirms commonly held views of our society. You either fit in or you perish.”

In the first line, you could well replace “artists” with “scientists”.  All in all—and this is not something I would have said two years ago—this forced ideological conformity is turning American culture into a modern version of the culture of Stalin’s Russia. In such a situation, quality is always eroded by ideology. And it’s not like this is the view of most people, because it isn’t. It’s the doing of a fraction of the populace who happen to be both loud and into grabbing power.

29 thoughts on “Ideology burrows deep into the arts in America

  1. A though-whilst-driving the other day – entirely from reading this site :

    Equal opportunity is one thing, I have nothing to add there.

    The “outcomes” part though – yes, they are not equal – nor can anyone expect that – but what I think the latest administrative fads’ objective is not even equality of outcome, but preconcieved outcomes :

    Students go to Widget making school, graduate, and make Widgets or teach how to make Widgets at the same school. Inevitably, there will be uneven variability to that preconceived notion. That means the preconceived notion is wrong.

    Thanks for the tangential rant – by the way, I’m not getting emails from additional comments. I notice a button missing on the comment box that was normally there..

  2. I’d say it’s all very similar to Oceania in “Nineteen-Eightyfour”. Everything in that society, literally everything, had to adhere to Ingsoc.

      1. But, I am delighted to report, the NAC backed down after a storm of protest. The performance night that was to be open only to “Black-identifying” patrons — the NAC used the upper-case B — has been changed so that all may attend. They were actually going to have white-appearing staff from the theatre present at the outer perimeter — before ticket check — to escort out anyone who refused to claim to be black. They were going to get white staff to do it to prevent incidents of white-on-black shoving and fist-throwing that might upset tender black sensibilities.

        Some guerillas were said to be buying up blocks of seats for that performance with a view not to attend, to leave many empty seats on the night of.

        I hope the stupid play bombs.

      2. The National Gallery in Ottawa has joined in the fun, with four senior curators, acknowledged experts in the material, fired and replaced by young know-nothings who want to see an emphasis on indigenous works. Important works owned by the Gallery are destined for the warehouse, and the public can no longer expect to see them. Instead they will be served elementary-level pap. This, following the scandal of the NG pulling out of the north American tour of the Lichtenstein royal family’s collection of old masters (“too white”).

        1. The very first post I recall reading on this website was Jerry’s account of the volunteer docents being let go from the Art Institute of Chicago with a similar agenda.

          The National Gallery (“home to one of the finest collections of Indigenous and Canadian art in the world, and is dedicated to amplifying voices”)* charges admission only to non-Indigenous people but it is backed by the Canadian taxpayer so can’t go broke. They needn’t care if admission-paying people stop visiting. It can be an empty mausoleum of indigenous folk art and craftwork, the most highly developed of which relied on iron and steel carving tools culturally appropriated from Europeans. But somebody will have won a battle.

          Indigenous politics trumps black politics in Canada by a huge margin. It’s not even close. Racism is truly only one-way with the former, even if the latter has to backtrack sometimes.
          * from the NG’s website: Note the “Indigenous and Canadian” phrasing. By law and treaty, indigenous Canadians are citizens of Canada and loyal subjects of the Canadian Crown, and have no other sovereignty of any kind.

  3. Do people actually believe that ballet companies and chemistry departments are hotbeds of white supremacy?

    Or is it a case of “credo quia absurdum” (I believe because it is absurd) because it is their religion?

    1. I’ve asked this question (“Do people actually believe…”) at my university. I was promptly and urgently shushed.

  4. Heather MacDonald has written astutely on this trend in classical music. See: and .

    While we are on this subject, consider that some call it an over-dramatic exaggeration to point out the analogy between Lysenkoism in the USSR and the present “woke” memes and standards in Anglo-American academia. After all, they say, our present situation is not that bad, nobody is imprisoned or executed for dissenting from DEI doctrine. But cases of the extreme penalty should not be taken as typical of the Lysenkoism period. The number of Lysenko’s opponents who died in the Gulag or were executed by the NKVD—Vavilov, Karpechenko, Levitsky, Muralov, Meister, a few others.—was quite small. Many, many more dissidents from the official ideological line in Biology suffered only professional cancellation, a penalty no worse than that sometimes imposed in the Anglosphere today on those who dissent from the worship of DEI, the anti-biological precepts of critical gender theory, or other near-official doctrines.

  5. It’s called “The Long March Through the Institutions” to establish cultural hegemony for Communism.

    Per Antonio Gramsci:
    the religious (the clergy)
    the educational (the public and private school systems)
    the family (patriarchal family)
    the legal (police and legal, court and penal systems)
    the political (political parties)
    the company union
    the mass communications (print, radio, television, internet, cinema)
    the cultural (literature, the arts, sport, etc.)

    It gives a chill to read down that list.

    1. The phrase was popularized, in the late Sixties, by the German radical Rudi Dutschke (“der lange Marsch durch die Institutionen”). Little could he have dreamt at the time of its success two generations later.

  6. If I understand correctly, one could say that these DEI officers are the US equivalent of the KGB. Or maybe more the Red Guards, that comparison fits better.

  7. Yesterday, I watched Ron DeSantis’s press conference on higher education. He vowed to eliminate all DEI-related bureaucracies and funding throughout the Florida state college and university system. He is also looking to further tighten controls over tenure and faculty hiring while sharply increasing funding for faculty.

    I see the potential for collateral damage, as well as for abuse from both sides of the political aisle if the laws on tenure and hiring do not have sufficient checks and balances. However, I also have little hope that the institutions will reform themselves or that another conference, website, or paper from the left-liberal side of the house will change anything. (I say that having great respect for people like Jonathan Haidt and our host who demonstrate that there is principled intellectual opposition on the left–efforts that are necessary but insufficient.)

    It was fine, perhaps, to roll our eyes or wring our hands while this mess stayed in the humanities and social sciences. Now that it is overrunning science and medicine, as well, we can’t afford such leisure. So, if not the approach of DeSantis working concretely at the level of policy, personnel, and funding, then what is the answer?

    1. You are right, Doug, we used to roll our eyes and make jokes about it. [I even used to have fun with it in satirical internet magazine essays.] We never imagined that the monster would someday escape from the bog of postmodernism/grievance studies to start munching on everything in sight. Mea culpa, but I would beg for mercy on two grounds: (a) I closed my lab 15 years ago, before the monster had really gotten going;
      and (b) not seeing then what was on the way, I can claim innocence through mental deficiency.
      In any case, maybe attempts within the academy to forestall state interventions of the DeSantis variety will help to restore some balance and sanity in-house.

      1. I suspect that the balance of power (and the self silencing) has tilted too far in the academy and associated organizations for substantial reforms to be initiated from within, particularly as “right thinking” increasingly becomes a matter of social class. But perhaps some prodding from without will stimulate action.

        Lysenkoism in the sciences; socialist realism in the arts; bastardized Marxism everywhere. How ironic that the most pressing question before us is: Что делать?

    2. Going to agree here. I’m skeptical of using governmental power to go after ideological and political positions, but now a lot of DEI activism is occurring using public funds, or funds from private foundations that get major tax write-offs for engaging in DEI-related stuff. People get paid, sometimes serious, serious money, to agitate for all things DEI. This includes people getting *de facto paid to shut down opposing viewpoints and projects that run counter to social justice goals*. Why should such activity, especially de facto censors, be funded by the government? If the funding is pulled, you will have less people who are full-time political agitators.

    3. I agree. On the assumption that racism, particularly at universities, is probably very low or nil, then removing all of this DEI architecture is not going to increase racism. In fact, it may have a positive effect, as some DEI initiatives have been shown to actually increase racial resentment.

      Also agree that the real risk may be that these reforms are abused to discriminate against faculty. But I’ll take that risk if it washes away the legions of mostly useless DEI staff from higher education….

  8. Dr. Coyne, do you not see anything strange about recognizing the United States is becoming similar to the Soviet Union in this respect, while also continuing to support the Democratic Party in every election? You don’t have to like the Republicans or agree with them to recognize that the left is the greater threat to society at present. If you can’t bring yourself to vote for DeSantis (assuming he gets the Republican nomination in 2024), there’s also the option of casting a protest vote for a third-party candidate, which is what a lot of people did in 2016.

    1. First, were you ever in the Soviet Union? Second, yes, both sides are bad, which is due in large part to the two-party system, electoral college, jerrymandering, and so on. But to claim, as you do, that the Republicans must be the better choice for everyone just because the Dems have gone woke is taking things too far. People have different priorities and each much choose the lesser of two evils.

      A third-party protest vote is one of the most useless things. Essentially it is the same as not voting at all, since (with the caveats above) which of the two parties which have a realistic chance gets the most votes is what is most important. One can’t vote for a third party and say “because…”. In other words, the people you are protesting against don’t even know that you are protesting against them and the other side.

      I admire Ralph Nader’s work for consumer protection, but his running for President resulted in a Republican win.

      1. I haven’t lived in the Soviet Union, but I often see comments from people who used to live there, expressing fear about how similar what’s been recently happening is to what they escaped from. Here’s one example of that:

        It isn’t strictly true that a third-party protest vote is the same as not voting at all. There are certain benefits that a political party only gets if they’ve received a certain portion of the popular vote in the previous election (I think it’s 5%), and the Libertarian Party has come very close to that number several times. There have been a few times in U.S. history when there were more than two viable political parties, and I think trying to make that happen again is a goal that’s worthwhile and not entirely futile.

      2. Don’t be fooled by right-wing misinformation. Pew Research found that among Republicans 23% of them are “Faith and Flag” Republicans, “Committed Conservatives are 15% and 23% are “Populist Right.” In other words, 61% of Republicans are far-right threats to democracy. In contrast, only 12% of Democrats are “Progressive Left” and can be legitimately classified as “Woke.” The Woke are doing no favors for true social justice causes, but they represent a minor threat to democracy as compared to the fascist dominated Republican Party. The Pew Research tells the tale of the tape.

        1. Look, you have made comment after comment about how the “woke” are much less dangerous than the right, and here you’re saying it again. I am losing patience with repetitive harping on this, which is, I believe, meant to let readers know that I’m banging the wrong drum and should be warning about the Right instead. I’ve addressed that issue again and again and said that there are plenty of people harping on the dangers of the Right, that I do recognize them and the greater threat they post to democracy, but there are lots of sites you can read to hear about that. I am more interested in keeping the left on the straight and narrow.

          Okay? Got it? If I were you I would another horse to ride on. You’ve made your point a gazillion times and you’ve ridden that horse so hard that it’s wet.

          1. You’re in it for the cheers from your supporters. Whenever someone goes against you, you tell them to leave. Yeah, it is your site but Pot meet Kettle. I’ll show myself out.

          2. I think you are being a little bit harsh on this occasion. Historian was replying in a thread started by somebody who claims the left are more dangerous than the right. I do not believe this is true either (at least not in general). It’s difficult to refrain from responding when people try to make a case that voting Republican is better than voting Democrat even if I’ve done it a million times before.

  9. “And the Ford Foundation, one of the most influential charitable organizations in the country, boasting a $16 billion endowment, has led a group of fifteen major donors in dedicating $160 million specifically to BIPOC arts organizations.”

    I wonder if the Ford Foundation views this as an act of contrition for Henry Ford’s anti-semitism and his enthusiastic promotion of The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. I wonder if they mention one word about that on their website. Does the Foundation similarly support any Jewish-related endeavors?

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