Lighthearted, glib treatment of a momentously crucial subject. Marquis (Alfred H. Barr, Jr., 1989, etc.) sets out to chart the course of public arts funding in the United States from the end of WW II to the present day, but her well-intentioned study is stunted by its lack of a discernable central thesis. To set the stage, she touches upon postwar flourishing of official art patronage. One factor was a need to overcome the sense of cultural inferiority that Americans had long suffered. Equally crucial was the government's recognition that the arts could be a vital instrument in the waging of a cultural Cold War with the Soviet Union. Marquis then turns helter-skelter to specific projects such as the building of New York's City Center and other performing arts centers. While jumping around, Marquis highlights the role of the Ford Foundation as arts-funding pioneer and role model for the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA's turbulent 30-year history (and apparently imminent demise) reflects, of course, the changing economic and political tide of the United States. After flourishing in the '60s and '70s, the NEA's influence (and budget) peaked in 1980. Fraught with controversy from the outset, the organization's existence has continually forced the age-old philosophical battle concerning government intervention in the arts; more recently, with the help of Jesse Helms, it has generated debates concerning artistic freedom. Marquis, in this behind-the- scenes account, reveals the NEA as a victim of serious mismanagement and generally poor leadership (she also makes an embarrassing exposure of former NEA chair Nancy Hanks's personal life). To her credit, the author is unabashedly subjective in her role has as arts advocate--acknowledging the probable fall of the NEA, Marquis offers her own intriguing plan for a more democratic distribution of arts funds. Disorienting cultural history, further wounded by bizarre digressions. .