A very small percentage of Obama’s $825 Billion Economic Stimulus Plan is supposed to be spent on the arts, primarily through the administration of the NEA and the NEH. Already there has been protest from the political right against such expenditures – primarily coming from places like the American Heritage Foundation and the Cato Institute.
The argument is that this is really “pork” money and does not stimulate the economy. Yet it has been pointed out by the NEA that the very small amount of money ($50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts) when compared to the overall $825 Billion is actually placed more efficiently into the economy and establishes over 6,000 jobs. While the arts organizations that are financed by NEA grants may have only 2 or 10 or 25 employees, there are hundreds of organizations and they add up to the same kind of impact as a large corporation like an airline or a bank.
The inclusion of the arts in Federal economic stimulus action has happened before during FDR’s era. For instance, these programs as cited by the Institute for Policy Studies:
The Federal Art Project, along with several other WPA-backed programs, created well over 5,000 jobs for American artists. These artists created over 2,500 murals, over 17,700 sculptures, 108,000 paintings, and 240,000 prints. The project’s legacy still lives on, since it supported artists like Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, and many other abstract expressionists whose work helped shift the most dynamic center of the art world to shift from its traditional location in Europe to where it now resides, in the largest cities of the United States.
The Federal Writers’ Project created over 6,600 jobs for writers, editors, researchers, and many others who exemplified a given level of literary expertise. Established on July 27, 1935 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, the Federal Writers’ Project (FWP) operated under journalist and theatrical producer Henry Alsberg, and later John D. Newsome, compiling local histories, oral histories, ethnographies, children’s books and other works. These writers created over 1,200 books and pamphlets, and they produced some of the first U.S. guides for states, major cities, and roadways. In addition, the FWP was responsible for recording folklore, oral histories, and, most notably, the 2,300 plus first-person accounts of slavery that now exist as a collection in the Library of Congress. As with the Federal Art Project, the FWP’s contributions to American literature were both significant and long-lasting, giving authors like Saul Bellow, Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, Sterling Brown, and many others the opportunity to continue their work in a time of difficult economic circumstances.
These programs not only created jobs, put money into the economy, and improved education and lives in general, they also put the USA into a cultural leadership position in the world which still exists.
If you agree with me on the importance of the minimal funding of arts programming in the stimulus package, then let your Congressional representatives know it. Such funding is too easy to cut.