As the economy continues to wobble, and Americans face the bleakness of a looming depression, Washington is cobbling together a stimulus package designed to restore the economy and create jobs. The overwhelming majority of the $850 billion proposal is allocated to infrastructure spending and the rescue and reform of financial institutions and the manufacturing base.
Setting aside the merits of the bill as a whole, which reasonable people can debate, the political response to it is shaping up as just another partisan dogfight. Republicans are flailing away at anything they think they can disparage as wasteful, whether or not it actually is.
One example of this, that is close to my heart, is a $50 million grant to the National Endowment for the Arts. That amounts to about 0.006 of one percent of the total bill. That hasn’t stopped Republicans like Mike Pence from trying to use it to torpedo the whole package. But this minuscule appropriation actually has a valid purpose and can produce value that far exceeds its cost. While it’s easy for Dark Agists in Washington to target the arts for political gain, the truth is that art in our communities and schools is essential to both our economic and mental health.
In our efforts to get America working again, it should be remembered that artists are being hurt by the present economic slump along with everyone else. Perhaps more so, in that they are often the first to be cast off by belt-tightening employers and consumers. As such, they are no less deserving of a place in the recovery.
In the last depression, Franklin Delano Roosevelt created the Works Progress Administration which, amongst other things, created work for 40,000 American artists. Those jobs resulted in projects that lifted the economic prospects of their communities by making them more livable and promoting trade and tourism. And they also contributed to a cultural Renaissance by documenting society’s pain, struggles, and victories. In addition there was an emphasis on arts education, which produced a generation of more well-rounded and literate citizens with an appreciation for the arts and the solace and inspiration they invoke.
Support for the arts is a critical part of our nation’s recovery and its character. It is what defines and preserves our history and our spirit. It propels us forward in good times and consoles us when hardships weigh us down. It is our essence, our connection to one another, to our ancestors, and to our heirs.
John Cavanagh of the Institute for Policy Studies is spearheading a campaign to advance government support for the arts. He is calling for more funding as well as a cabinet-level Secretary of Arts and Culture. The online petition for this movement already has over 4,600 signatures. You can add yours here: One Percent for the Arts