Saturday, February 14, 2009

Dramatic Finale for the Arts in Stimulus Votes

Until late last night, it remained unclear whether the tiny portion of the federal stimulus package wending its way through Congress that was designated to shore up job losses afflicting arts institutions around the nation would survive the final cut.

It was high drama from the beginning: the "audacity of hope" that led Americans for the Arts on what most of us veterans of past arts funding battles thought was a Quixotic quest; the surprise that the House version of the stimulus package actually included $50 million (with an "m," folks) for the National Endowment for the Arts, the beleaguered federal arts agency that receives less funding than US military bands (I love Sousa, but let's be fair); the disappointment (though not exactly surprise) when "Okie" Coburn managed to get the Senate to accept his amendment to prohibit the arts from receiving any stimulus money (categorizing them with "casinos"); the irony when we learned that his daughter is an opera singer with an upcoming appearance at the LA Opera; the shocking discovery that he was aided and abetted by Democratic Senators in the two largest culture industry states (Feinstein-CA; Schumer-NY); the assumption by many (myself included) that it would never be restored in the House-Senate Conference; the long silence on details afterwards; the rumors that NEA funding was back in the bill; the waiting with bated breath during the final House vote; and the late-night return from his mother's funeral of the last Senator needed to vote approval of the package. It awaits President Obama's signature now, a sure thing we're told.

This marks the most significant victory for the arts on the federal level, perhaps, since the NEA was established over 40 years ago. It still does not bring NEA funding to the level at which it would now be with funding adjustments tied to inflation over the years, largely due to its decimation and near elimination during the 1990s (thanks to Jesse Helms and others). But it is a much-needed shot-in-the-arm and it sends a message that America is a civilized nation, proud of its heritage and eager to preserve it, and cognizant of the essential role of creativity in all that we pursue.


Ozzy said...

It's a good deal and long overdue. We have been through a tunnel of dumb for a long time now. It's amazing that the Arts have to fight so hard for a few bucks when the money really only amounts to a few corporate perks for just a few.
onward irregardless, Bill
my Blog comments on the subject
"NEA's impact is more than decoration"

Rick Stein said...

Thanks for your comment Ozzy.

A couple of additional points of interest...

At the start of my career, in upstate New York, it was the Republican Party that advocated the most for state funding of the arts--not the Democrats--so I've always been dismayed about the change of heart.

Second, those who oppose arts funding as frivolous are also criticizing other wasteful spending--but they generally advocate reducing the size of government overall instead of rooting out corruption and inefficiencies, which then remain in the downsized government. That never made sense to me.