NEA Increases Cultural Spending

On Tuesday of last week, President Obama made a historic move for the art scene by signing the Interior Appropriations Bill for 2010. This bill, among other things, provided $167.5 million dollars to both the National Endowments of Arts (NEA) and the National Endowments of Humanities (NEH). The bill would increase funding for establishments like the Smithsonian Museum and National Art Gallery by millions. Why is this so ground breaking?

This news is setting artist heart’s a-flutter, because the issue of cultural funding has long been neglected. It has it been neglected and attacked, namely by conservatives and Republicans.

The NEA and the NEH have been attacked year after year by conservative politicians since it was founded. Ronald Regan, upon taking his seat in the Oval Office, tried to implement a three-year plan to disband the NEA. Newt Gingrich, former house speaker, in 1995 through 1997 released a wave of attacks attempting to eliminate funding for the NEA, NEH and other controversial artists that were deemed “anti-Christian bigots.”

And of course, there was Glenn Beck and the Boston Tea Party re-enactors this year that sharply criticized the NEA and Yosi Sergant for their involvement in making art supporting Barack Obama. This is the kind of criticism and unwavering opposition the art scene has had to face.

Things seem to be looking up for the art world now, though. Barack Obama, a self-proclaimed champion for the arts, seems to appreciate the value of creativity and self-expression through art more than past presidents.

Even his presidential campaign gave Americans a glimpse of a president more in-tune with the art world; his campaign gained attention and controversy when street artist Shepard Fairey created the ubiquitous “HOPE” poster, that soon found their way on to t-shirts and bumper stickers across the country.

His “Platform in Support of the Arts” includes plans to expand public/private partnerships between schools and art organizations, provide healthcare for artists, attract foreign talent, promote cultural diplomacy and, most importantly, increase funding for federal programs like the NEA, a plan he’s already implementing.

There are three main reasons why the funding given to the NEA and NEH is a good thing. The first is simple; by allocating funding to the NEA and NEH we are opening up more jobs, and job opportunities for students to pursue. The more jobs there are in a field, the more motivation a student will have to pursue a career in that field.

It is always important to fund different career fields, including careers in the arts, because not only does the funding create more jobs but also it gives younger students another path to follow through school. In other words, The Interior Appropriations Bill increases the diversity of our education.

The second reason the funding to the NEA and NEH is vital to society is more important. This may sound stereotypical, however for the most part artists tend to be more open minded about new ideas, whether they are good or bad. The reason is because art thrives on the notion of expression. Because of this notion, artists tend to express their feelings — controversial or not — without a sense of fear, regardless of what taboos society places on them. It is this open-mindedness that tends to clash against the far right. It happened when the Spanish Inquisition burned books of new ideas, it happened when Senator McCarthy sentenced movie producers to prison for their criticisms of the government, it happened in 80s when the NEA went under fire for artists who questioned religion. While the open-mindedness causes controversy, it is the same type of forward thinking that is vital to the progression of a culturally aware society.

We need people to promote ideas that push the envelope. We need people to promote this kind of thinking to other fields such as politics and science by increasing funding. The country needs people to teach that artistic expression is vital, and that it’s the right of every citizen to freely create, discuss, and view art. Barack Obama is slowly emerging as the new savior for a culture that has marginalized artists and what they do for years.

This bill, more importantly, seems like a re-enforcement of the American dream. For too long, art has taken a backseat to every other issue in the public forum. Whether it is painting, writing, acting; the creation and appreciation of art in general has steadily declined.

With this bill we can show the world that an art scene viewed as being on the verge of death can be revitalized by a leader who acknowledges and values artistic expression.