Issue #157  2/12/2009
U.S. Congress Votes Against The Arts, Calling Them Unimportant to The Economy

By Alex Novak

Something not-so-funny happened on the way to a stimulus bill: the U.S. Congress voted specifically to kill all such funds for the NEA, the arts and our museums. It was called the Coburn amendment, and you will be shocked at the so-called liberal legislators who also voted for this travesty. By the way, the pitiful amount cut? $50 million, or .00006% of the total currently being spent on this bill. Yes, those are the right amount of zeros after that decimal point. The fight should have been over the pathetic funding instead of the need and the impact.

Frankly, $50 million is a tiny amount: it is 1/600 of the $30 billion allotted just for roads and bridges. Is not art as important as out-of-date modes of transportation that only contribute to further energy and environmental problems? And these are truly pork projects that have often been associated with payoffs, kick-backs, graft and bid rigging, unlike the arts. Perhaps that's the reason this Congress chose to put the money where THEY may get more out of it themselves. Just look at the mess up in Alaska for some good examples (but I also remember some recent past beauties in New Jersey and Illinois).

Only the U.S. spends so little on the arts compared to any other developed country. The German government just allocated the equivalent of nearly $2 billion dollars. The French government, $4 billion. The Italian government spends more on opera houses than our government spends on ALL the arts--and that minuscule bit was just cut out completely! The amount the U.S. spends per capita on the arts is a joke, and yet such spending provides some of the most bang for the buck.

According to Americans for the Arts, art is a great economic investment. The organization notes that each year nonprofit arts organizations generate $166.2 billion in economic activity, support 5.7 million jobs, and send almost $30 billion back to government in taxes generated through the process. The brain-dead congressmen (and it was men, by the way) who took easy pot shots at the arts never considered this fatal error in their thinking. And an investment in the arts has a quicker, more direct effect on the economy and is more job-generating than nearly any other alternative.

The fact that funds for museums, artists and the arts were specifically banned from the so-called stimulus package is a disaster. In the current economic environment, this is a matter of absolute survival. Just look at Brandeis, which was going to close its art museum, fire the staff and sell off the art (only now are they backing away gingerly, while still trying to do those very things).

Museums and other art institutions are facing the most serious crisis that they have ever faced. Their endowments have been slashed by 25-75%, and most of their operating budgets are legally tied to a set percentage of these endowments. Foundation and donor money has also suffered the same cuts or even worse, which further exacerbates the situation. Museums have and will start to lay off staff, sell off art (despite the museum association's rules, which will be changed--mark my words on that; and legal limitations from donor restrictions), and cancel all funds for purchases.

This decision will ultimately cost hundreds of thousands of jobs and is the worst hit on art and culture ever for this country.

And if you think the Congress will get funding for the arts passed later on in this environment, you are dreaming. It may never happen because Republicans and Conservative Democrats will probably kill it, and the so-called Liberals are frightened of their own shadows--even President Obama, who did nothing in the conference to support the arts. Both my senators here in Pennsylvania voted to ban this money--and they are considered Liberal/Moderates.

Every one of us in the art community must email and fax the President and our individual representatives immediately to get this money back into the stimulus bill right now. Let them know that you will not contribute funds to or vote for any one who voted for the Coburn Amendment unless they publicly support the arts and vote on reversing the cuts in funding measures for the arts immediately.

Neither side seems to have grasped the real message of the last election: this is not a time for the same old approaches. It must be a time of transformation if we are to survive.

For more information on this serious matter, see the following links:

http://www.speakupformuseums.org .

http://business.theatlantic.com/2009/02/why_stimulus_spending_should_go_to_public_art.php .

For a list of how your representatives voted on this matter (a Yes vote is a BAD thing), go to:

http://www.senate.gov/legislative/LIS/roll_call_lists/roll_call_vote_cfm.cfm?congress=111&session=1&vote=00051 .

And don't be put off by the ridiculous propaganda-like wording on the so-called "purpose" of this bill: "to ensure that taxpayer money is not lost on wasteful and non-stimulative projects!" As if the arts were wasteful and monies spent or not spent on them had no impact on our economy.

Tell your representative that they made a mistake and that they need to correct it now! Email them, call their offices, send them faxes now. Time is of the essence. Please let your friends know and link to this site. If you are involved in any arts or photography organization, get your membership involved in this now. Contact your magazines, newspapers, and TV and radio stations. This will impact all of us as citizens and as supporters of the arts.

Let's not lose this battle because Art and Culture can't hire high-paid lobbyists to get our representatives and President's attention. Let's make them understand for once that there are consequences to their actions or even inaction.

By the way, I have also set up a Facebook group entitled, "Save the Arts from the Stupidity of the U.S. Congress", which you can find here: http://www.facebook.com/groups.php?ref=sb#/group.php?gid=62275347852 , but you will have to join Facebook to see the group and join it. There are some very active discussions about this situation posted there, and you can add your own thoughts on the subject.