On Friday, the Senate passed an amendment to the economic stimulus package that would make sure that taxpayer money is not lost on “wasteful and non-stimulative projects” — such as funding museums, theaters and art centers. The amendment was proposed by Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. The vote was 73-24.
Bad banks, yes. Car companies, yes. Symphonies, no.
Robin Bronk, executive director of the Creative Coalition, wonders why the arts are being attacked — as if they didn’t employ millions. She cites the New Deal’s Works Progress Administration as a great, historic example of successful economic and artistic stimulus:
These programs created much-needed jobs in the immediate term, but they did much more. They fostered great talents that otherwise may have been lost. The work of the many great artists supported by the government in the 1930s still benefits us today. Their contributions to our culture endure, and their successful careers resulted in employment for many others in the years that followed.
She neglects to remember that the WPA was indeed repeatedly attacked. It was politically controversial from the start — partly because it was feared by Republicans as a Democratic political machine-in-the-making, partly out of anti-Red hysteria, partly as a ploy to derail the popular New Deal, partly because there was indeed waste and featherbedding.
From a history of New Deal cultural programs by Don Adams and Arlene Goldbard:
By 1938, a coalition of Republicans and conservative Democrats began to press their opposition to New Deal cultural policies. Late in July, 1938, Representative J. Parnell Thomas of the House Committee to Investigate Un-American Activities (HUAC, also known in the ’30s as the “Dies Committee,” after its chair Martin Dies) claimed that he had “startling evidence” that the Theatre and Writers Projects were “a hotbed of Communists” and “one more link in the vast and unparalleled New Deal propaganda network.” He announced that an investigation would be launched. …
Just as the Dies Committee report was being issued and a further investigation launched, Rep. Clifton Woodrum declared his intention to “get the government out of the theater business.” In June, 1939, the House Appropriations Committee which Woodrum chaired successfully barred future use of WPA funds for theater activities of any kind, bringing the Federal Theatre Project to an end virtually overnight, just four years after it was begun.
Christopher Knight in the LA Times counters the Senate anti-arts funding amendment with a proposal of his own: Forget about a few piddly millions for the arts. Let’s talk billions in support.