Thursday, February 5, 2009

Stimulus, take 2: $50 million for the NEA?

ADDENDUM: Oh how idealistic I was. The Coburn Ammendment passed 73-24, with no Republicans voting against it. This apparent misunderstanding and mistrust is really indicative of a failure of arts leaders to educate our representatives on the key role these institutions and individuals play on the formation of America's cultural heritage. We matter, and we've got to make them understand. See the above AAM post for more info.

Elizabeth Blair of NPR reported yesterday that President Obama's stimulus package includes an additional $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts, and a whopping $150 million for infrastructure repairs at the Smithsonian.

Seeing as through the government is having trouble getting companies to actually put the TARP money they've been given back into the economy (getting banks to lend and businesses to reinvest), I would argue that giving money to the NEA is probably the best way to ensure that those funds get put to use immediately. Artists have to consume in order to create, and buying art supplies, renting exhibit space, having works framed, and maybe (if there's any money left!) holding an opening, have an direct impact on the local economy. Plus, if big companies had to write grants that were anywhere near as intensive as those the NEA requires, there would be no question that the money they were being given was needed and of long-term value.

But, I am not in the Senate (fortunately or unfortunately), and some members are diametrically opposed to any such arts funding. Tom Coburn, a Republican from Oklahoma- I am willfully resisting the urge to say anything deprecating about the culture of Oklahoma- is submitting an amendment today that would not allow ANY funding for the arts through the stimulus package.

The language of the amendment, (Amendment No. 175, as filed) is, "None of the amounts appropriated or otherwise made available by this Act may be used for any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, arts center, or highway beautification project, including renovation, remodeling, construction, salaries, furniture, zero-gravity chairs, big screen televisions, beautification, rotating pastel lights, and dry heat saunas."

The amendment is laughable and sad. But what is even worse than grouping casinos, dry heat saunas, and museums together is the fact that Coburn is most likely not alone in his apparent hatred of arts institutions. Love of the arts is not universal. But that's why we're here, right? I don't think this will pass the Senate, but it is a reminder that staying on top of government is of ultimate importance (after all, [and no offense to the Senator from Oklahoma] most of the time elected officials are not that bright). It is our duty as responsible citizens for the arts to keep track of the decisions that affect us, and work to both expose and change them. Idealistic? Maybe. But fighting a good fight is honorable, even if you lose.

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