NEA Grants for Clown College

32993126 - clown robot in clown mask. Of all the strange things that the U.S. government spends money upon, perhaps one of the strangest is a college for clowns located in California’s 12th congressional district, which falls entirely within the city limits of San Francisco and is represented by Nancy Pelosi in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Part of the Circus Center, which provides training to people who would like to pursue careers as circus performers, the Clown Conservatory received a $10,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in 2017 to help fund a “24-week program, taught by master clowns, circus artists, and circus historians”, which aimed to train “professional and professional-track performing artists in narrative clowning, character creation, circus arts, and performance. The training will help prepare artists to meet the demands of today’s international circus, film, and theater job market.”

CNSNews’ Terrence Jeffrey provides more background on what the NEA’s grant of U.S. taxpayer dollars to the Clown Conservatory buys:

The center says that the Clown Conservatory is “the United States’ only professional training program for clowns and physical comedians.”

“Clown Conservatory is a multidisciplinary training program in physical comedy, precision idiocy and eccentric acting,” says the school’s brochure.

“Our program’s directive,” it says, “is to foster the super-versatile Human Cartoon.”

The organization’s website lists classes and workshops that include “Character Morphing,” “Buffoon,” and “Precision Idiocy: Micro-Crafting Physical Comedy.”

Aside from providing this core program of training for America’s next generation of political leaders, the Clown Conservatory represents taxpayer dollars being wastefully directed to sustain something that the public really doesn’t want.

Because if it did, there would be a growing international job market for clowns fed by growing public demand, and there simply isn’t. The evidence for that can be found in the stagnant membership numbers of the World Clown Association, which has consistently counted some 2,400 people in its ranks since 2004.

Over the same period of time, the world population grew by over one billion. If the world’s population were really demanding more clowns, you would think that worldwide clown demand would have at least kept up with population growth, where we’d see that growth reflected in the clowning world’s professional associations. You know, to support all the hiring going on in “today’s international circus, film, and theater job market” for clowns.

But while the clown community has not meaningfully grown for nearly two decades, the Circus Center has proved adept at securing NEA grants, collecting $175,000 since 2000. The $10,000 that the group received from the NEA to support its Clown Conservancy training program is just the latest batch of federal taxpayer dollars that the group has received.

Referring to the $10,000 NEA grant for the Clown Conservancy, asked the Circus Center: “Why should American taxpayers fund a school for clowns?”

Barry Kendall, executive director of the Circus Center, responded. “Paying taxes is a deeply patriotic act and supporting the preservation and advancement of American culture is one of the patriotic uses of those dollars,” said Kendall. “Circus Center is proud of the unique contributions that our professional clown training program makes to the cultural life of our nation, and we are delighted that Clown Conservatory was recognized through the NEA’s competitive application process.”

That’s the kind of professional training for America’s next generation of political leaders that I was talking about! Plus, it doesn’t hurt to be based in the home district of the current minority party leader in the U.S. House of Representatives, who was also once third-in-line for the U.S. Presidential succession in their former role as Speaker of the House.

After all, this kind of wasteful spending doesn’t repeatedly happen by accident!


Craig Eyermann is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute.

Craig Eyermann is a Research Fellow at the Independent Institute, Managing Director of Political Calculations, and the creator of the Government Cost Calculator at
Beacon Posts by Craig Eyermann
  • Catalyst