No arts left behind..or even left at all

This blog is supposed to be about innovation and technology in the arts, and I’m sorry that this week’s post is not going to be about that.  I’m not in the mood.

If you are at all involved in the arts, and you happen to check Facebook every once in a while, you have undoubtedly seen petitions circulating and calls to save NPR, PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts (I would say NEA, but in some circles that means National Education Association, also under attack, at least here in Wisconsin).

Here are the facts:

1. The House’s version of the budget proposes zeroing out (eliminating funding from) the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides funds to both National Public Radio and the Public Broadcasting System.

2. Two budget amendments currently on the House floor would cut funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.  One of them would eliminate funding completely.  President Obama’s budget even includes a $21 million cut for fiscal year 2012.

We’ve been down this road before.  Republicans have tried to eliminate (or severely cripple) the CPB and NEA since 1994, when these proposals were part of the Contract For America in response to the Republican wins in the mid-term elections.   At that time, we mobilized arts supporters, saved both organizations, and have since then significantly beefed up our advocacy efforts, assembled massive amounts of data showing the value of the arts, and written countless letters to our legislators.

Turns out we were on the wrong track all along.  Opponents of the CPB and NEA said it was all about saving money and creating jobs, so we put together arguments that prove that the arts save money and create jobs.  But we’re right back where we were in 1994, even after proving, and pretty convincingly too, that more jobs will be lost and more communities will be hurt if we cut the arts.

So something else is going on here.  And it’s something I think we need to be concerned about.

What would happen if the NEA and CPB were indeed eliminated?  What would this country look like?  Well, it’s certain that the arts would still happen — government funding only makes up about 9% of the funding that currently goes to arts organizations anyway.  Some argue, we would be even better off because we wouldn’t be beholden to government funding and requirements, and could spend our time actually making art and not advocating all the time.

An argument I heard recently on Facebook went something like this: if NPR wants to be liberal, let it do so on its own dime, don’t make the taxpayers pay for something they don’t agree with.

Here’s my point in return.  NPR does not seek to be “liberal,” unless you define liberal as open to and reporting from several points of view, in which case guilty as charged.  NPR is not the left-wing version of FOX.  Silencing the only voice in the media that has a mandate to be truly fair and balanced and is not owned by a profit-making corporate entity means much more, and is much scarier, than just complaining about a so-called liberal voice.

I’m coming to you today because I’m tired.  I’m tired of thinking up new arguments every year.  I’m tired of writing endless generations of new legislators who are prepared to go to battle against the arts and aren’t tired yet.  I’m tired of being positive and diplomatic and upbeat.  I want to just stand up on a hill (preferably a Capitol one) and scream with frustration.  And, I admit it, there are times I just want to say, okay, let it go, we’ll make do on our own and we won’t have to be nice to you any more.

So what do you think, folks?  Do any of you have more energy than I do?


About Ellen Rosewall

I am Professor and Chair of Arts Management and author of Arts Management: Uniting Arts and Audiences in the 21st Century (Oxford University Press, 2013). I believe that arts and culture are undergoing a profound change in the 21st century, and I love talking with people about how we continue to bring arts to our communities and individuals give the brave new world of social media, technology and economic changes. Join the conversation!
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