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.
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.