Arts funding for the 21st century

Thanks to Jane Remer, a guest blogger on [Dewey21C](, for inspiring me to cast my two cents on the arts funding issue. I might also thank Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma for giving us a platform on which to debate whether the arts are worth being a part of President Obama's massive stimulus bill. Coburn is leading [the charge against arts funding]( for public schools as well as $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. Remer says that the "arts are fundamental to the cognitive, affective, physical, and intellectual development of all our children and youth. They are a moral imperative." I agree. But Coburn is one of the many whittling down the bill on the basis that it's not stimulus, it's spending -- a distinction that presents an interesting rhetorical challenge. How do we make the case that the arts are a stimulus? There are two implied strategies that I find interesting. One is by Christopher Knight of the LA Times. Funding culture stimulates job creation, he says:
Collectively [the arts] employ almost 6 million people. Crisis is a time for boldness, not timidity, and few recall an economic crisis quite like this one. So art museums, symphonies, theaters, dance companies and other cultural centers should get a huge infusion of funds.
The other strategy comes from [Chris Jones]( of the Chicago Tribune. The arts have an implicit value to Americans, Jones says. Yet ...
... [s]omehow it has come to be broadly accepted that concrete, asphalt and medicine for the body (as distinct from the heart and soul) have greater moral worth.
More arts means more jobs. The arts are morally good. The arts advocacy community has done little to press this case, even though it would challenge conservatives' own rhetoric. How can Coburn et al. not support jobs and morals? Maybe this is a generational issue that's slowly changing as the definition of the arts has changed and as the economics of America change. For a long, long time, the arts have been categorized as enrichment, something extra to be added to an education curricula whose objective was to produce good workers. That period has passed and the role of the arts has changed too. So much research has been done to show that arts are more than enrichment. They are vital, like math. It makes sense that a stimulus package with sights on long-term affects would set in place mechanisms that serve our economy and our souls. Younger people know this intuitively, because they are "creative" all the time. The modes of Web 2.0 require people to create -- blogs or music or remixes or what have you. These of course may be of dubious quality and worth, but they are nevertheless creative and those who engage in the of Web 2.0 -- meaning millions of people -- understand the arts, that they are more than "pork," that they are the center.
February 11, 2009 7:13 AM | | Comments (9)



Dear Flyover and all respondents - thought you'd like to know the outcome (to date...who knows what tomorrow brings) to the "selling culture as an economic force" argument - Robin Poggrobin's article raises some interesting points, no the least of which is: is this what it takes to get $50 million puny dollars and the arts in the stimulus plan noticed these days in the US..? The answer of course is, yes, and then some...

As a visual artist I propose that America as a whole is so ignorant of the
arts that there is little understanding of its impact on daily life. The
lack of a sophisticated sense of aesthetic is effecting our ability to
compete in the market place. I see it in the design of mass produced
teapots, cars, trains, airplanes, furniture, and kitchen cabinets too. Too
many times the design is absolutely awful. Every object we interact with
has a design component, and I dare say there is reason why foreign designers are gaining momentum daily. In America, there is a lack of understanding, of the overlap between the arts and product development, design, and the market place. Will America be able to compete in the marketplace if creativity is not encouraged at every level? Do we not understand that creativity is an essential commodity in today’s marketplace?
Well, those in power can continue to cut budgets for the arts,
and I assure you, the price paid for such lack of vision (maybe those cutting the budgets were educated I schools with no art programs) , will be painful in the years to come

We are having the same issue here in Australia.

In a weird way, I CAN see what they are getting at.

In their minds, I believe, you put $1 towards constructing a road, you can see the results. It makes them look good, and they can say "hey, I spent $x on road and rail reconstruction. This helped the economy in blahblahblah ways". Same with bailing out industries. People who have little or no interest in the arts, or anything really.....are losing jobs.

So, to save the economy as it exists at the moment (that is, no one is inconvenienced. We can continue to go about things like they were before in some way or another), means that the people I will never meet, or even that I will ever want to meet for that matter, need to see that the government is taking care of things.

The artists don't run the world economy. The left brain-accountant-powerplaying ones do. And that's just a complete bugger.

How many artists can get their head around business? Freaking 1% or 0.00001%. Most can't even run their own lives. Most, that is. So, they aren't in the corridors of power. Probably won't ever be. Always poor (in a western sense, poor).

For me, I want to be able to do both. I am a dancer and trapeze artist, amongst other things, but if I can't run my own accounts, I'm useless to anyone.

Another point I heard is that if no one works, no one consumes. The arts, in most Anglo people's lives, just aren't that important. Unless you count Australian/Albanian/...Zambian Idol.

Personally, I don't really care about the Opera companies. Or Classical Music companies. But others don't give a rats arse about circus.

Does the average person think "hmmm I don't really like the car industry. But the crane and construction industy, that's my thing!".

I believe the arts produce jobs. I believe that the arts gives back to communities. But I think, this sort of talk about "people have to park, pay for food at cafes"....well, thats like saying "hey, if you come to our networking evening, you get a chance to meet loads of people". That's not guaranteed. What if a whole load of people turn up to a play, and DON'T give $ to the local cafe? How does a Congressperson, Senator, MP know that they do? It can get a bit abstract, and when you are making firm decisions, the abstract stuff is too far away to deal with.

I'm not agreeing with any of the points, just thinking of how others would do things.

Then again, if they hate artists, then they'd go "fffk em, let em die". Solution: I dunno, pull your finger out of your arse and be an artist as well as an accountant. Or like Rahm Emmanual - ballet dancer and freakin powerful person.

My late husband, modern dance choreographer, Mel Wong, used to say that when people study history, they study the culture's wars and their art. History will look at our nation as initiating wars while diminishing the importance of the arts. New York, which used to be the center of the dance world, has lost that status more than a decade ago, because other nations' governments support their artists. We are no longer the cutting edge. My book, FURTHER STEPS 2, is testament to that. How sad that, as Meredith Monk said, "we are living in a no-culture, culture."


You're making the fundamental mistake of assuming that Senator Coburn' objection to arts funding's presence in the bill was indeed that it was "spending", not "stimulus". He, and other Republicans, would have attacked arts funding no matter which vehicle carried it, and would have used whichever argument was convenient.

There is no point in pointing out the economic advantages to investing in art; if their current arguments are refuted, they'll just switch to others, because there objection is to arts funding itself.

We need to do more than talk about this among ourselves. Has everyone emailed his/her Senators and Representatives and expressed these concerns? Use facts like these from the American for the Arts economic impact survey.

"A recent national study by Americans for the Arts shows the country's 5.7-million workers in the nonprofit culture industry contribute $166 billion to the annual economy."

By the way, I have been told that $50 million is about one seventeen-thousandth of $827 billion.

I would just gently intervene in this discussion because a long essay I wrote for the Fox Forum -- you can read it at -- deals with this issue head on. Indeed, the strongest argument that the arts can make has to do with fiscal impact and fiscal impact, of course, means jobs. At the Clyde Fitch Report, I also have a post on the coming Republican backlash against the arts here:

Thank you for raising these issues.

Dear "Flyover" - stimulus/spending - can't have the first without the second, but not so, v/v - my position is that the arts belong in education, whether or not they help us compete in a global economy (dubious), raise test scores (possibly some tiny correlation but irrelevant), or produce creative and innovative thinkers/workers for the 21st century (again, no reliable correlations here). I loved your explorations; refreshing.

While I would hate to be seen as defending Tom Coburn, which I am not, I have not seen anything in his amendments to the stimulus bill that specifically focus on "arts funding for public schools" one way or the other. I haven't anything like that in his series of amendments or on his website.

His series of amendments do not directly address education at all, and while his amendment my have halted NEA funding in the Senate bill, regrettably, it remains a reasonable possibility that arts education, including support for non profit organizations will be possible under the education bill to be negotiated between the House and Senate.

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