Now that it appears that money for the arts has been competely dumped from the economic stimulus package, some of our national culture writers are hoppin’ mad. Chris Jones of the Chicago Tribune wonders how the arts descended to this lowly spot on the government priority list.
“The contrast in priority with the last comparable American stimulus package is simply breathtaking. Funded by the Emergency Relief Appropriation Act of 1935, Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration made the arts a priority. Federal Project Number One — home of the Federal Writers Project, the Federal Theater Project, the Federal Music Project and the Federal Art Project — was, believe it or not, the largest of the WPA’s endeavors.
Its mission was to give more Americans the chance to experience what Roosevelt called “a fuller life.” Its legacy — from invigorating murals to landscape paintings to the careers of Arthur Miller or Orson Welles — is everywhere you look.”
Meanwhile, Christopher Knight, writing for the L.A. Times Culture Monster blog, takes direct aim at a piece of the bailout package he deems as way unnecessary. Rather than spend $62 billion to continue funding of the F-22 fighter plane – a project that even Secretary of Defense Robert Gates has been critical of – Knight suggests that money would be better spend on the arts. He’s quick to point out that that will never happen, but his argument is an interesting one. To make it, he uses the example of an upgrade that L.A.’s Museum of Contemporary Art is in need of:
“MOCA estimates the upgrade cost at about $20 million. The rehab would create and retain construction jobs, directly as well as indirectly from suppliers; ensure future levels of museum employment; and add permanent infrastructure value to the cultural landscape.
Now, multiply that by 100,000. I suspect every one of America’s nonprofits has at least one unfunded project that it would like to get going – “shovel-ready,” as it were, even if the job doesn’t involve bricks and mortar. A program tour, say, or a schools program.”
So why do projects like the F-22 get funding while arts groups don’t? Back in Chicago, Jones writes:
Somehow it has come to be broadly accepted that concrete, asphalt and medicine for the body (as distinct from the heart and soul) have greater moral worth. … More significantly, the arts have thrown up precious few, articulate, clout-heavy American leaders of their own. That needs to change. Old economic arguments must be articulated anew.
The sad truth to all of this is that one need only follow the money to figure out why we’ll continue building outdated fighter planes instead of new arts infrastructure. Knight says that a group of 46 senators signed a letter urging that the F-22 program continue. When it does, the companies that build them will get rich, and some of that money can in turn be spend to fund campaigns and pay lobbyists.
It’s a nasty cycle. And the fact that there were not enough voices in the Senate willing to speak out against dumping the arts funding from the stimulus packages shows that it’s a cycle with no end in sight.
- UPDATE from Culture Monster: Tom Coburn, the senator from Oklahoma who stripped arts funding from the stimulus package? His daughter is an opera singer and he’s an opera lover.