This semester in Mu 110, you’ve been honing several skills of good writing and critical thinking by developing the art of conversation in online discussions (processing new information, sharing your own ideas, responding to the ideas of others, and asking questions to learn from your peers). All of these skills are what you need to do in order to produce good writing: absorbing new ideas, linking them with ideas and experiences you already have in a new, surprising, or interesting way, learning to see all sides of an issue, and anticipating what others will say.

At the final exam (F1: Monday, May 22, F4: Thursday, May 25), you will be putting these skills into practice in two ways: 1) an in-class discussion (approximately 1 hour), and 2) a writing project (approximately 1 hour). The topic of these assignments (worth 10% of your final grade) is the National Endowment for the Arts.


Assignment prompts

Part 1: The in-class discussion (5% of your final grade)

A loosely-structured seminar discussion is the typical format of upper-level undergraduate courses as well as all graduate work (masters and doctoral level). The point of a seminar discussion is precisely that: to discuss. In the process of discussing, you are forced to clarify what you think by articulating your ideas in a clear and persuasive manner, and at the same time you learn from the wide array of perspectives and experiences that your peers bring into the conversation. The discussion may organically move to unexpected topics, but the main takeaway from a learning experience like this one is that all of your knowledge and resources are related; there is no such thing as a separation of academic subjects when you really approach a topic critically. Your familiarity with the assigned material, your own initiative in doing additional research, and your engagement with each other is what will make for an effective and enjoyable class.

Your task:
Read the post below, read as much of the linked web pages as possible (read multiple times, take notes, reflect on it—in other words, do what we do in class on your own).
Refer to notes you’ve taken in class over the course of the semester, past lecture slides, and previous Online Discussions to make sure you’re correctly understanding as many concepts as possible. Read additional sources as necessary to ensure that you know what you’re talking about with this topic.

Prepare thoughts, questions, and ideas that you have about the notion of government-supported music making. These can approach the topic from any and all angles—make use of the various brainstorming methods we’ve undertaken in class.

Be ready to have a rich, engaging, and involved discussion with each other as an entire class about the National Endowment for the Arts. Ask each other questions. Offer comments. Respond to each other. I will not participate in this discussion.


This discussion assignment is worth up to 5 points in your final average. If you are late or leave early, the maximum number of points you can earn will be proportional to the amount of the discussion you miss; if you miss half of the discussion, you can only earn up to 2.5 points; if you miss a third of the discussion, you can only earn up to 2.6 points; etc. If you do not participate, do not contribute to the assigned topic, or are absent, you will earn 0 points.

The better your contributions to the class discussion, the more points you will earn. You will be graded on the amount and quality of your contributions to the class discussion; ideally the answers to all of the following questions will be “Yes”:

  • Are you prepared for the discussion? Have you read the assigned web pages? Have you done additional reading (as necessary) that allows you to have a reasonable baseline of knowledge about the topic?
  • Are you contributing to the class discussion in a meaningful way? Are you offering new insight that no one else has adding? Are your contributions compelling and interesting rather than vague, superficial, or cliché? Are you building upon what other people have said rather than ignoring them?
  • Are you demonstrating knowledge (rather than ignorance) of the course material, technical vocabulary, and drawing from past discussions we’ve held in class and online?

I look forward to being a fly on the wall for your discussion!


Part 2: Writing

The first stage of all writing happens away from the computer—it consists of thinking thoroughly about a topic, and that’s the purpose that the in-class discussion will serve. The in-class discussion is an opportunity for you to try out and refine your ideas, arguments, and point of view regarding the assigned topic: the National Endowment for the Arts.

Your task:

Following the in-class discussion, you will outline and write a letter to an elected official articulating your ideas about the National Endowment for the Arts. Your writing will include:

  1. A specific recipient whose concerns you are aware of and address specifically in your letter
  2. Three (3) distinct arguments supporting your position on the National Endowment for the Arts. Complete arguments state clearly why you believe what you do, offer evidence to support them (in the form of statistics, personal anecdotes, or specific examples), and anticipate questions like “So what?” and “How do you know?”
  3. A potential rebuttal to your position that you defuse (show why it’s incorrect, not applicable, or faulty logic)

Suggested recipients for your letter (feel free to address your letter to someone not on this list):

  • President Donald J. Trump
  • NY Senator Charles Schumer
  • NY Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
  • NY Representative Grace Meng (from District 6, where QCC is located – you can look up other members of the House of Representatives here:
  • NY Governor Andrew Cuomo
  • NYC Mayor Bill deBlasio
  • Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams
  • Queens Borough President Melinda Katz


This writing assignment is worth 5% of your final grade. Each of the five (5) required writing components is worth 1 point, and extra credit is possible (0.25 points per component, up to an additional 1.25 points on your overall final average).

  • Tailoring the writing to the intended recipient’s identity, issues, or concerns
  • Three (3) distinct arguments, each clearly stated, supported with evidence, and addressing any implicit “so what” issues. If two arguments are basically identical, the second one will not earn any points.
  • Anticipation and defusing of the addressee’s potential rebuttal


The blog post: Background information to set up the discussion and writing

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was established in 1965. Its purpose is “to nurture American creativity, to elevate the nation’s culture, and to sustain and preserve the country’s many artistic traditions.”

The NEA’s annual budget is $148 million. This sounds like a lot of money. No one I know has $148 million. But the budget for the NEA equals only 0.003% of the total US budget (which is $3.899 trillion). The NEA’s budget is far less than that of the Defense Department, a new Air Force One jet, or various construction projects.

The NEA uses its budget to fund art making, arts education and access to the arts in under-served communities, individual artists, and cultural institutions in every single congressional district in the country (all 435). It also supports state-level grant making agencies (like the New York State Council on the Arts).

Some examples of what the NEA has funded (and that likely wouldn’t exist without that funding support):

The NEA maintains a searchable database of all the grants it has awarded since 1998 and has published explanations of how it decides who receives its funding through its competitive grant process.


In Online Discussion #1, “The economics of classical music making,” we talked about the kinds of costs that are involved in music making, and the same is true in the other arts supported by the NEA (dance, literature and poetry, painting, sculpture, photography, film). We didn’t discuss the economic disparities that determine where people live, who in the country has access to arts education or artistic experiences, or why such access is important (especially for children, and particularly music).

The President’s proposed budget blueprint (which is a guideline to be followed by Congress in drafting next year’s budget) eliminates all funding for the NEA going forward. The budgeting process happens over the next few months and the new budget takes effect October 1.

The US already spends considerably less per capita (meaning fewer dollars per person in the country) on the arts than other developed nations. Of all the federal taxes you pay each year, $0.47 goes to the NEA.

budgets for the arts per capita


There have been several think-piece essays on the NEA written in the last 6 months since talk of eliminating the NEA has been going around:

  1. Benajamin Laude and Jarek Ervin, “Saving the NEA Won’t Save Culture,” Jacobin Magazine, May 7, 2017:
  2. “Critics of the NEA,” Vox, March 20, 2017:
  3. Thomas Campbell, “The Folly of Abolishing the NEA,” New York Times, February 22,2017: Campbell – The Folly of Abolishing the N.E.A, NYTimes 2017.02.22
  4. Alex Ross, ”Making Art in a Time of Rage,” The New Yorker, February 8, 2017: Ross – Making Art in a Time of Rage – The New Yorker


Preparing to discuss/write

Here are some examples of ways to frame an argument about the National Endowment for the Arts to get you started:

  • I believe the USA should continue to fund the National Endowment for the Arts because…
  • I believe the US government should cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts because…
  • The National Endowment for the Arts is (not) necessary because…
  • We don’t need a National Endowment for the Arts in the USA because…

A good argument—just like good musical analysis!—includes specific details (like an example, a personal anecdote, or a statistic) to support your idea, and it addresses the “so what” contained in your idea.



2 thoughts on “Final discussion and writing project, Spring 2017

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