Hard times are when we most need the arts
Jeff Kaley, The Duncan Banner
0bviously, budget cutting is a key factor in continuing to get a handle on the economic mess in the USofA, and paring down has to happen at the federal, state and local levels.
At the local level, what’s sad and frustrating — even counterproductive — is part of the budget-cutting in public education will come from slicing the arts from school curriculums. It’s already happening in school districts around Oklahoma, in part because there’s a public mindset the arts aren’t really essential to the education experience.
That’s why every time there’s an economic meltdown that requires school budget cuts, one of the first things whittled down is funding for band and vocal music courses, art classes and drama clubs. Over the past two decades, many state school districts simply stopped offering those courses or extracurricular activities.
Our kids need those outlets and conduits for self-expression. And think about it a moment: If we are to strengthen the economy, find ways to avoid riding a financial rollercoaster in the future and make progress in society at many levels, we need creative ideas from people who can think outside the box.
Since ancient humans fashioned flutes from hollow reeds and discovered their vocal cords could produce a pleasant tone that soothed their emotions and stimulated thought, the arts have nourished creativity.
As funding is sliced in public education and in the public square, here’s the conundrum: At a time we most need creative stimulation, we’re going to cut back on the arts.
It seems self-defeating. It also seems shortsighted that, in the past week, 165 conservative members of the U.S. Congress — predominantly Republicans — called for the termination of the National Endowment for the Arts and key arts education programs at the U.S. Department of Education.
The National Endowment for the Arts has been a target of conservatives for years. A reason for that, I think, is conservative culture warriors can’t get past what I call the “Serrano Hang-up.”
In the late 1980s, Andres Serrano triggered a public furor. The National Endowment helped finance a show by the artist that included pieces many found objectionable, including a photo of a crucifix in urine.
Serrano’s photo became the poster child of depravity to folks offended by such art or who oppose government subsidies for the arts, even though “government” was underwriting the arts long before the Medicis and other politically-powerful families funded The Renaissance.
However, those with an ideological objection to the National Endowment conveniently ignore the fact only a small percentage of NEA funds go to the Serranos and Robert Mapplethorpes of the arts world.
A preponderance of NEA funding goes to partnering with community arts councils, youth arts projects and education, cultural events that bind communities together, museums and galleries and subsidizing artisans whose work doesn’t offend most reasonable folks.
Sure, there are times I’ve questioned the NEA’s decision-making; wondered about the artistic value of some funded projects. And it does seem the NEA has supported some projects that make you think, “Why this?”
But the arts should take us to some extremes, challenge us and present eclectic viewpoints. By their nature, the arts involve free expression, and free expression —even if it’s tasteless — sustains a free society.
And in the overall picture, the Serranos and Mapplethorpes are the exceptions in NEA funding, not the rule.
Something else conservatives ignore while waging culture war on the National Endowment for the Arts: Although tax payers help foot the bill, the NEA gives back to the economy,.
Bob Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, says the arts support around 5.7 million jobs in the United States, and those jobs generate about $30 billion in taxes. Nearly $13 billion of that tax money goes back into the federal government.
For every $1 the NEA seems to use frivolously by funding the Serranos and Mapplethorpes, there’s $1,000 spent on arts programs most would agree benefit our culture and economy.
You’d think conservative capitalists would consider that type of return a good investment.
Posted on Fri, March 18, 2011
by Jennifer Gilliland