Oh Boy, Here We Go Again

Today’s Boston Globe has one of the most upsetting articles I’ve read in a long while. Entitled “Stimulus Funding for Arts Hits Nerve,” it’s about the furor over the $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts that was included in the stimulus package that passed the House, but is absent in the version before the Senate.

Representative Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican, wants to transfer the proposed NEA funding to highway construction. He failed to get the House to vote on his proposal, so he is now trying to get on the conference committee that will determine the fate of the funding. “We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA and pretending that’s going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a road project is disingenuous,” Kingston said in an interview yesterday, adding the time has come to examine all of NEA’s funding.

And when it was pointed out that the unemployment rate for artists was the same as the entire workforce (although it’s worth noting that there’s 46% unemployment rate among actors, and 19% for dancers), you get gems of logic like this:

But opponents of the funding say that many groups of workers don’t receive special funding. Brad Dayspring, a spokesman for Cantor, said the provision “uses taxpayer dollars on NEA programs instead of common-sense tax relief targeted to revitalize small businesses and create jobs for middle-class families facing economic challenges” and “fails to meet the standard necessary to be included in an emergency economic recovery plan.”

If I could do a videocast, everyone could see how visibly pissed I am about this . . . Putting aside questions about funding for the arts and how NEA’s money is allocated to both organizations and artists, and ignoring for a moment the oft-documented fact that arts spending does create jobs, let’s just look at the number for a second: this $50 million for the NEA is 0.006% of the total $819 billion package.

Not 6%. Or even 0.1%. But 0.006%. 1/16,380th of the proposed spending.

And that’s not even factoring in the $800 billion plus that allowed Wall Street firms to stay in business and give themselves $20 billion in bonuses. The proposed $50 million for NEA is 1/400 of the amount these people—“people” who essentially ran a Ponzi scheme that bankrupted the world and has damaged everyone’s quality of life for years to come—received just last month thanks to nearly $1 trillion in taxpayer money.

But politicians are pissed about giving money for arts organizations or artists? Really?

It’s silly to have to make an argument for the arts, and trying to change a typical politicians mind is about as easy as ending world hunger, but really, the value of what the NEA does goes well beyond the jobs it creates. The arts make life better. Plain and simple. And spending a infinitesimal part of a stimulus package on arts organizations benefits the entire country.

Dana Gioia has an awesome quote in this article:

Dana Gioia, a poet who was NEA chairman until last month, recalled that when top Roosevelt aide Harry Hopkins was asked why the government wanted to hire so many artists and writers, he replied, “Hell, they’ve got to eat just like other people.”

Gioia, reflecting on that comment, said, “As far as I’ve heard, nothing has changed about the dietary needs of artists.”

I feel like we’re right back in the mid-1990s. . . . Initially, one might think that the arts would benefit with a democrat in the White House. But historically, that hasn’t really helped, and it’s during these periods that the NEA comes under the most scrutiny and loses the most funding. Clinton never stood up for public arts funding, probably due to the fact that from a presidential perspective there’s not much at stake and to use up political capital on something like this just isn’t worth it.

I really hope Obama is different. If he doesn’t go to bat for the arts and for including this pittance in the ever-ballooning (and rightfully so) stimulus efforts, all of his promises of change will ring awfully hollow to me.

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