One of the considerations on the table to “solve” the federal budget crisis is to cut all federal funding to the arts. Here we go again. We’re talking somewhere in the area of 160 Million, chump change in relation to the overall federal deficit. I am always amazed that these types of programs are on the chopping block, especially since the arts represents the humanity of our culture and that of all others as well.
What the brain trusts on capital hill are choosing to forget is that this money, although seemingly small, provides not only funding for arts organizations but seed money for these organizations to receive other grants. In listening to an interview with Kevin Spacey today, if this 160 Million is cut, it can result in an estimated overall funding cut of approximately one billion dollars to the arts.
Spacey talked about the value of the arts – the impact they have on a person’s life. How the arts can grow self esteem, how the arts can create confidence. Hello! Haven’t I just spent about a week waxing on the magic of the Hiawatha Park program. Haven’t I heard from folks what an impact a program like that had on people’s lives. And this was just a small theatre and dance program on the Northwest Side of Chicago. We are talking some major arts organizations that can lose their funding.
But, having spent 34 years working in local government I learned long ago that you never win a budget battle by arguing quality of life. Everyone agrees in principle that the arts improve quality of life. But politicians deal in the reality of dollars and cents. So let’s talk about that. Most cities support arts centers because they are good for the local economy. Not only do people attend performances, but while they do so they also eat at local restaurants, shop local stores, stay in local hotel rooms and spend money that helps to sustain local economies. Many urban areas have been revitalized not as shopping districts but as art districts because the arts dollar tends to generate dollars for other enterprises as well.
In Spacey’s interview he cites a very interesting fact. Do you know what the biggest tourist attraction is in the United States. Broadway! So arts tourism dollars benefit the economy locally, nationally and internationally. Arts dollars breed dollars, always have always will. So why would you not want to invest in a sector of our economy that can generate additional dollars and help keep our economy strong? The logic for cutting funding to the arts escapes me, but with the size of our federal deficit it does not surprise me that business acumen is a skill virtually non-existent in Washington, D.C.
Spacey went on to talk about how Abraham Lincoln knew the value of the arts and although he was assassinated in a theatre, Lincoln quite often went to the theatre to escape the hardships of leading during the Revolutionary War. He also talked about some research he had done on Winston Churchill. He said that during the Second World War as funding was getting tight Churchill was told that in order to continue funding military initiatives funding to the arts would have to be cut. Churchill’s reply was succinct and brilliant. He said, “Then what are we fighting for?”
There is so much other waste in our government’s spending but politicians like to try to take the easy way out whenever they can. Don’t let them. Contact your representatives and senators and tell them to look elsewhere to cut the budget. It may be just your voice, but aren’t the arts worth it?