Here we go again.
The president’s budget proposal for the federal government’s next fiscal year includes the elimination of both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the Corporation for National and Community Services (AmeriCorps) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (PBS, NPR).
This seems to happen every couple of years: someone in elected office, either federal or state, proposes drastic cuts to, or entire elimination of, government funding to the arts and humanities. The notion appeals to fiscal hawks, some social conservatives, anti-elitists, and anyone with a libertarian streak.
In response, those of us who work in the arts and humanities write messages like this one, urging our audiences to contact their representatives and tell them how much the arts and humanities mean to you. We enlist facts and figures to build rational, practical arguments: funding for the arts and humanities are such a miniscule fraction of the federal budget that the elimination will reduce no one’s tax bill by even a penny; arts and humanities are a $730 billion industry in this country, representing 4.2 percent of the GDP and 4.8 million American jobs that can’t be outsourced; arts and humanities are economic drivers, especially in small towns and rural areas; the NEA has awarded grants in EVERY SINGLE CONGRESSIONAL DISTRICT in these United States; the NEA has placed artists in “twelve military hospitals to help returning soldiers heal from traumatic brain injuries.”
I’m not going to do that this time. I’m tired of making these arguments, trotting out these statistics, every few years.
Instead I’m going to ask you to contact your representatives on behalf of the arts and humanities because we are Americans, by God, citizens of a great nation, and great nations support the arts and humanities.
Actually, no—good nations support the arts and humanities. Fair-to-middling nations support the arts and humanities.
Great nations know that this is how they are defined, and so they do all they can to involve their citizens in the creation and appreciation of art, and the study of the humanities. Great nations want their citizens to know and reflect on their history, to better understand the present and shape the future. They want their citizens to express themselves with the creativity and vitality of art, and they know that artistic vitality goes hand-in-hand with national and economic vitality. Only nations in decline neglect to nourish their citizens’ minds.
Great democracies know it is crucial for We, the People to invest in the arts and humanities, rather than leaving it entirely to the fickle forces of the market and major donors, relying on latter-day Medicis to patronize the artists and scholars who curry their favor.
Contrary to the popular Facebook meme, Winston Churchill never really responded, “Then what are we fighting for?” when someone proposed cutting arts funding during World War II, but he did say this:
“The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them. . . . Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.”
I know, I know: If you are reading this, you likely will write, and read, whether the government funds the arts and humanities or not. Human beings can create art and tell stories in any circumstance, however dire, however deprived, and have done so time and time again.
We are Americans, though, citizens of a great nation, a great republic, with bounty enough to go around. We do not face such circumstances. We should not have to.
North Carolina Writers’ Network