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Do you really think this country does an adequate job of supporting the arts?

I don't.  I believe it is very much the result of our version of hyper-capitalism, which places value on endeavors that make money.  I wrote a thesis on this somewhere ... dissapeared in to the college paper black hole.  Anyway.   Of course this is not to say that there is no art here.  There is a lot of it.  

Generations ago you could make a living in this country being an artist. You used to be able to live on the Cape in a shack and write for a year, now only millionaires can afford a shack on th Cape.  And if you do make it, there is insane pressure from publishing companies to pump out material.  It's all about the bottom line.  

I managed a big box book store during the era when they all moved into your towns and ran the little independent ones out of business.  I can tell you, promise you, that the people running those ships, literature was the last thing on their minds.  It was "product."  Could be a latte, a plastic bookmark, a DVD, a book, a mug, a toy, they didn't care what it was.  So long as it sold.  Didn't sell, it was taken off the shelves.  When I began, everyone I worked with held lit or language or music or history or art degrees and we were paid a living wage.  Wages were slashed to where you couldn't pay off a student loan and work there at the same time.  People hired to help university professors and students find the right philosphy and travel books were shoved behind cash registers and told to put pizzas in microwaves.  It was the most depressing thing in the world.  Well, it felt like it at the time.  I quit.

Arts?  I know a lot of artists, but they all have day jobs.  Usually of the retail or numbers crunching variety.  It's killing their souls.  

Here's the budget info for the National Endowment for the Arts:

Between 1965 and 2003, the agency has made more than 119,000 grants. Congress granted the NEA annual funding between $160 and $180 million from the mid 1980s to the mid 1990s. However, in 1996, Congress slashed NEA funding to $99.5 million (see Chronology of Federal Support to the NEA) as a result of increasing pressure from conservative groups such as the American Family Association, who have criticized the agency for using tax dollars to fund highly controversial artists such as Robert Clark Young, Andres Serrano, Robert Mapplethorpe, and the so-called "NEA Four." Since 1996, the NEA has rebounded somewhat with a 2004 budget of $121 million. [1]

$121 million for the arts

$401.7 billion : Defense Department's base budget
$27.3 billion : Pork
$56 billion : Department of Education

The public schools should be the places where children are exposed to the arts and learn to appreciate them.  (Not all will or can.  I never got math, but they were still obligated to teach me algebra...)

And overview of the NCLB budget shortfalls:  http://www.nea.org/esea/budget.html

Education is underfunded (and poorly managed).  When there is a budget crunch, arts programs are the first to be cut.

Insightful testimonial from an art teacher:

By Ryan Hurley
WEAC PR/Comm summer intern

"I am an endangered species," said Jeff Johnson, who teaches at Westside Academy in Milwaukee. "I am an art teacher."

Johnson strongly believes that the importance of the arts in a child's education is being downplayed by the school district and "when it comes down to it, the children need to be put first."
Since 1993, when legislators imposed revenue caps on public schools, school districts have been forced to make some hard decisions about ways they can cut back spending. Music and art programs were usually among the first to receive severe blows.

More than 10 years later, the slashing of music and art programs is continuing in dramatic fashion. In addition to revenue controls, the recent Elementary and Secondary Education Act (often referred to as the No Child Left Behind law) imposed by the Bush administration has put music and art programs in rough shape and left with a dim future. In hopes of reducing the budget, school districts throughout the state are taking drastic measures by cutting out pieces of art and music programs and in some cases eliminating teaching positions completely.

"These are trying times for all education, especially arts. The No Child Left Behind Act has put a restriction on music programs' ability to thrive," said Nancy Rasmussen, president of Wisconsin Music Educators Association.

Because music and the arts aren't government-tested like reading, writing and math, school districts are pressured to cut them first.

Some other observations: Public TV and Radio, where most arts broadcasting is done, is becoming increasingly corporate sponsored, complete with commercials.  And the content is becoming worse and worse.  The public radio station in Chicago is planning to cut all music programming and stick only to news.  People are baffled.  And the local museums are stopping their free days and changing their ticket price from "suggested donation of" to actually charging everyone.  Too poor to see Picasso?  Boo hoo...

When I was in Russia, people had art in their homes, did art.  Everyone was literate.  And I mean, had read Mark Twain and Dostoyevsky and Flaubert literate.  It wasn't fringe.  As a Slavic librarian, we get all kinds of headaches from people with the same name (Ivan Ivanovich Ivanov) writing poetry, so we have to qualify the authors with titles like (engineer) (physicist) (mathematician).  Engineers!  Writing poetry!  Cats and dogs.  Living together!

Anyway, this is my take on things.  Why I think we are not doing enough to support the arts.


Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities. -Voltaire

by p------- on Wed Aug 9th, 2006 at 05:48:27 PM EST
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