In a time marked by trillion dollar deficits, foreign war, and rampant unemployment, it would seem that the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) would be regarded as insignificant. Fortunately, Congress and President Obama have recognized the vital contributions that art makes to both the economy and to society. In the comprehensive stimulus package passed last month, Congress allocated the NEA fifty million dollars in federal assistance. Congress’s decision to apportion funding to the NEA not only creates and saves thousands of jobs, but also enables America to enhance its renowned artistic reputation. The preservation of artistic values is essential for a society that birthed concepts of free thought and expression.
The current economic downturn has raised unemployment to staggering heights. This widespread job-loss has particularly affected the art world in the United States, a field that employs 5.7 million Americans or 1.4 percent of the total workforce. Arts play an essential role in the nations economy. The arts generate 166.2 billion dollars in national economic activity and earn thirty billion dollars annually for the government. Expanding NEA funding is an exceptionally efficient way of spurring job creation. For every one billion dollars that is distributed to the NEA and other art based non-profits, 70,000 jobs are produced.
A recent study by the National Governors Association stated, "Arts and culture are important to state economies. †Arts and culture-related industries, also known as 'creative industries,' provide direct economic benefits to states and communities: †They create jobs, attract investments, generate tax revenues, and stimulate local economies through tourism and consumer purchase."
Additionally, many projects that the NEA is pursuing are "shovel ready," meaning they can begin to break ground immediately. The expansion in NEA funding will enable thousands of currently unemployed artists to find work, thus stopping the crippling unemployment trend. During the Great Depression, President Roosevelt created the Federal Arts Project (FAP) as a subunit of the Works Progress Administration. The FAP employed thousands of artists to construct massive public murals and statues. Roosevelt’s FAP would employ over 5,000 artists, who would construct over 225,000 pieces of art nationally. The Roosevelt Administration’s investment in art would additionally enable such renowned artists as Ansel Adams and Dorothea Lange to begin their illustrious careers.
The current economy’s influence on national arts can even be viewed within Los Angeles itself. The Los Angeles Opera has recently been compelled to lay off seventeen percent of its staff and implement a pay cut ranging from six to eight percent. The Los Angeles Art Museum was also forced to accept a 30 million dollar bailout this past December. The global economic downturn has threatened to limit the accessibility of art to millions of Americans.
The United States government has a responsibility to provide its citizen with adequate resources to create art. This nation has freedom of expression inherently engrained in its history through the First Amendment. It is extremely hypocritical that economic factors prevent a free society from developing art.
Art has historically been an indicator of phenomenal societies and governments. Ancient Greece, the birthplace of democracy, would not only entrust its citizenry with significant political responsibility, but also would create timeless architectural structures. The strength of the Roman Republic was embodied by it artisan population, and the prevalence of art in Roman culture. The Italian Renaissance witnessed the formation of city-states and the writings of Machiavelli, and was graced with such artistic titans as Da Vinci and Raphael. John Locke and other philosophers of the Enlightenment would have the popularity of their works only exceeded by William Shakespeare. Throughout history, memorable societies have also been recognized for by their remarkable art.
The slogan of the NEA describes it perfectly when it states: " A great nation deserves great art." Not only does the United States have an obligation to provide its populous with the opportunities to create art, but the expansion in art funding will have a positive affect on the waning national economy. While President Obama continues to bailout financial institutions, he must confirm his campaign pledge of sponsoring the development of the national culture through arts funding.