Wednesday, March 22, 2017

New Administration: New Attack On The Arts

The moment that many of us have dreaded since November 8th has finally arrived. Donald Trump was formally sworn in as President of the United States on Jan. 20th, 2017. It's probably the most scandal plagued administration that ever took office in the history of the Republic, as recent events are bearing out. Out of respect for my peace of mind, I am now ignoring the 24-hour news cycle and selectively reading stories that catch my interest. 

Noting that, as this is a blog about art, the new president, consistent with Republican ideology will attempt to make dramatic cuts to things that we know to be public goods, such as Social Security, Medicare, funding for public education, healthcare, and the arts. Things such as the CPB (Corporation for Public Broadcasting which helps fund NPR, Sesame Street and Masterpiece Theatre), the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) and others are once again in the crosshairs. Now, to be fair, funding for the arts has never been particularly robust at the federal level. In fact, according to a new analysis by writer Scott Timberg, the previous administration's commitment to arts and culture funding was less than his predecessor, George W. Bush, who I note with continued shock, in his post-presidency, has taken up painting!

The new administration's budget blueprint calls for eliminating these agencies altogether. It's basically a symbolic move to show voters that they're serious about eliminating "wasteful spending". The truth is the combined money spent at the federal level on arts and culture is a scintilla of the overall federal budget. We still spend more on defense that the next 7 nations combined. What would happen if that were inverted? What would happen if things like inspiration, beauty, and reflection were actually priorities of local, state, and federal governments? What would our country, and indeed the world look like?

Whether these cuts happen or not is really dependent on people standing up and saying "NO" just the way we should be saying "NO" to the renewed and really quite tired attempt to slash Social Security and Medicare and all the rest. We must once again prove that engagement with art (having it and making it) is beneficial to the public and worth public investment.
There is a lot of research that shows that it is. Without these things we become more savage, less able to think and reason deeply, less contemplative and reflective, and more prone to the simplistic and reductionist ideologies of racism, misogyny, homophobia, and authoritarian-style strongman rule.

In other words, since our public investment in arts funding has been historically abysmal, I would argue it is part of the reason we have Donald Trump in the White House and not someone who truly represents the best of the US. The best of us. Now I understand that this is more political than this blog has tended to be, and I have heard the argument that the arts and artists shouldn't be political. Art shouldn't be provocative, or so the thinking goes. But it's precisely because art is provocative that repressive governments attempt to eliminate art from the public space. There's historical precedent for what's being contemplated here, and it's why we all need to make our current government STOP THIS.  Ultimately, we the people have the power to stop yet another idiotic and cynical attempt to cut something that does a tremendous amount of good for a relative pittance.

Do the math: $448 million to the CPB vs. $54 BILLION for our military apparatus.

More Later


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