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(Wario image via gamertell.com, money image via asianweek.com)

The National Endowment for the Arts now funds a hotly-debated form of art: video games. With the newly designated “Arts in Media” program, $10,000 to $200,000 grants from the organization can now be used to fund the production of digital games, multimedia art work and interactive applications.

The NEA’s previous “Arts on Television and Radio” category has been renamed “Arts in Media,” reports Digital Trends. The change in name reflects a change in direction for the NEA, moving beyond the traditional forms of media often associated with public funding into new media territory. Where the earlier “TV and Radio” funding could literally only go to TV and radio programming, the new category applies to content produced for “all available media platforms such as the Internet, interactive and mobile technologies, digital games, arts content delivered via satellite, as well as on radio and television,” explains the NEA’s updated guidelines.

Would David Hockney’s iPhone art be NEA fundable? (image via dailymail.co.uk)

What may look like a minor semantic change is actually a revolutionary redefinition. Video games are now a formally acceptable art medium, in the eyes of the United States government’s largest arts organization. But don’t just think of this as about public money going to Nintendo; it’s not just handheld Super Mario games that would receive funding. In fact, I would bet that “entertainment” oriented games are the least likely to get a piece of the pie. What I would expect to get the new grants would be interactive, community projects, games or apps that use art as a vehicle to communicate and bring users together.

Gamerfeed explains the new guidelines simply: if your video game, or digital project, is “about the arts, supports the arts, teaches the arts, or is art in itself,” then it’s viable to be funded. The grants would be as likely to go to a purely aesthetic digital art object than to a digital tool to help high school art teachers. The “Arts in Media” grant category further blurs distinctions in the medium of digital media. It doesn’t matter if you’re making a monumental digital installation, a playable game or an iPhone app; everything is fair game.

I can’t help but think that this new designation could prove provocative and ire-inducing for the NEA, though. Conservatives who find funding going to NPR offensive (and going to Mapplethorpe photos unthinkable) won’t be so jazzed about government money going to the same medium that produced Duke Nukem and Grand Theft Auto. But again, this isn’t about violent video games or the Farmville obsessions that are keeping kids out of school. It’s about the increasing public presence and artistic viability of new media, and to see that get government support is a great thing.

Interested in getting some money for your digital work? The application deadline for the “Arts in Media” grant is September 1, 2011, for projects that start after May 1, 2012.

Astoundingly 90s homepage image for this post is courtesy of the NEA itself.

Kyle Chayka

Kyle Chayka was senior editor at Hyperallergic. He is a cultural critic based in Brooklyn and has contributed to publications including ARTINFO, ARTnews, Modern Painters, LA Weekly,...

5 replies on “NEA Now Funds Video Games”

    1. It seems like an individual artist could apply under the heading of a video game project… I don’t think the NEA just funds artists’ careers and gives them free reign.

      1. Thats great… as long as you are an artist working in video games or at least computer-based technology. No, the NEA does not fund artists’ careers and give them free reign. They don’t fund individual artists and haven’t been able to since the 80s.

  1. Prospective video game artists would do well to follow what goes on at GDX, an annual event hosted by SCAD

    http://www.scad.edu/experience/events/gdx/Personally I think the art of video games lies more in the conceptual/theoretical/philosophical realm that encompasses poetics, cinema, and performance- the real art is in the possibilities, and while sentimental nostalgia for commercial video games mass-marketed to consumers has its rightful place in exhibitions of crowd-sourced popular culture, it’s not art- perhaps an incubator for it though… and it’s possible to look at the coding underneath the games as poetry in itself

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