Fund the National Endowment for the Arts

The fiscally responsible citizen looks at the current state of the nation with very sad eyes. The president’s proposed budget for 2009 is over $3.1 trillion, and even the White House admits at least a $400 billion increase in the national debt. The White House has yet again shown the backwards priorities of this administration. With billions going to the military, the arts are being forgotten, and the arts must receive full funding. The White House gives estimates for the 2008 budget as slightly more than $2.9 trillion. Where is all this extra money going? There is, not surprisingly, a large increase in the defense budget of over 10%, a few billion dollars for human services, and a few billion given to other programs. For all these increases, it would of course be necessary for a few decreases in some areas of spending. With such an increase in total spending, most agencies will still have money, but in the new budget, Bush has proposed a $16.3 million decrease for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Adding in the traditional peace-minded statistic; to fully fund the NEA, it would cost only a few hours of the war in Iraq. Arts activists, and culturally aware citizens in general, were ecstatic when congress passed a $20 million increase in NEA funding last year. Bush signed the bill, and everything looked good. There was a feeling of complacency, it looked like this administration might at least have some priorities right. This new proposed cut in NEA funding completely crushes that feeling. It reminds us of the backwards priorities of our government. The American Arts Alliance reports that “The arts attract new tourism dollars. Sixty-five percent of U.S. travelers include cultural events on their trips, spending an average of $38.05 per event in addition to the cost of admission on event-related items such as meals, parking, and retail sales.” Simply put, investing in art not only boosts creativity and is positive for education, but also helps the economy. The major argument against funding the NEA is that it is “frivolous spending”. Opponents of the NEA claim that with the national debt as high as it is, we must stop wasting money. The NEA does not waste a significant amount of money. Looking back on history, the power of Picasso’s Guernica, the intrigue of Dali’s Persistence of Memory, to argue that art is a waste is a historically flawed argument. To fully fund the NEA to the level that the American Arts Alliance calls for, the level that it was funded 16 years ago, it would cost every American slightly over 50 cents. The importance of art is often misunderstood or disregarded. Writings of a civilization can lie, accomplishments of a civilization can be blemished, but art tells the true story of a civilization. I did not learn this until I was 17 years old, but it is one of the most important lessons that I have learned. The Office of Management and Budget and Congress are about to be put to a test; do they understand the importance of funding the arts? After well over a decade of being under-funded, the NEA must return to being funded fully, so all of its programs can operate. It will be a glorious day when the entire world understands what Da Vinci meant when he said “Art is the queen of all sciences communicating knowledge to all the generations of the world.”