The NEA’s future has now been decided, the decision is by consensus, and the conservative position has prevailed. Chairman John Frohnmayer said so in a little-noticed appearance at the Newsmakers Breakfast at the National Press Club last September 17. Here is what he said: First, “I have argued all along that internal management reform and sensitivity to taxpayers will be the remedy of our problems.” Translation: the artists’ panels will no longer dictate who gets what. Taxpayers’ opinion (read: people revolted by taxpayers’ subsidies to political or obscene or bigoted or blasphemous art) will now make a difference.

Second, “Peer panel review system: a lay person now sits on each panel, that is, someone with a profound interest in the arts who does not make their [sic] living through the arts. We also recognized that the panels of citizen-experts had become, in their own eyes and in the eyes of many artists, infallible judges whose recommendations should not be questioned by either the National Council or the Chairperson [of the NEA]. That had to change, and the new attitude is a foundation for accountability in the future.” Translation: the same thing again. The artists’ panels will no longer dictate who gets what. Taxpayers’ opinion will now make a difference.

Third, the “Endowment must reaffirm that it is for all the American people, rather than looking solely to the arts community. It is a question of finding a balance between the need for freedom of artistic expression and public accountability.” Translation: the same thing a third time.

So much for a now-repudiated past. What about the future? Here the chairman defines an Endowment that will simply keep out of the public eye. It will “emphasize arts education,” “emphasize delivery of arts to our multicultural and rural communities,” “emphasize the international activities of this agency,” and “maintain, strengthen, and enhance our core institutions which are both the repositories of our past artistic genius and in many ways the hope for our future. Here I mean our museums, symphonies, theaters, operas, and all other major artistic groups.” Translation: grants will mostly go to institutions, e.g., schools, community organizations, international exhibitions, museums, and theaters, which can be trusted not to blow up Pittsburgh, and not so much to individual artists, who cannot be trusted.

The chairman’s reiteration of the magic words conservatives have heard so little of in the past 18 months—”accountability,” “taxpayer,” “no longer solely for the arts community”—tells us that the NEA has finally capitulated to what I regard as good sense. It aims at a long future as a federal agency devoted to building audiences for the arts and institutions for the arts—but not financing the careers of artists. So no more politics in the guise of “art”; no more thousands of dollars of grants for bottles of urine; no more performance art that replaces Shakespeare with chocolate-covered shriekers; no more hysteria about censorship; and no more federal subsidies to the sectarian left.

The radicals of the art world get sizzle: no restrictive language governing the content of art supported by tax money. The great center position gets the steak: an Endowment that will not spend federal funds for left-wing propaganda masquerading as “art.” The other side has lost, and lost big.