On the National Endowment for the Arts, and Why They Matter.

My work day started off slowly today: mundane things, mostly. Since I do so much of my work from home, it’s easy to click around the web on slow days. So, today around noon, I popped over to Facebook, and lo-and-behold, saw this article from The Hill. “Trump Team Prepares Dramatic Cuts.” I don’t know what I was expecting — more vital cuts to human services like health care, or a drain on defense spending. Something to do with substantial amounts of bureaucratic overhead, perhaps. What I was not expecting was this:

The Trump Administration needs to reform and cut spending dramatically, and targeting waste like the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be a good first step in showing that the Trump Administration is serious about radically reforming the federal budget,” said Brian Darling, a former aide to [Rand] Paul and a former staffer at the Heritage Foundation.

Waste? Waste? Let me take a second to discuss the ways in which the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) contributes to our American fabric without so much as a hint of wastefulness. The NEA is awarded an annual budget of approximately $148 million by the federal government. Sound like a lot? That’s actually only 0.012% of federal discretionary spending. I’m not sure where Sen. Paul’s former aide has learned his math, but I don’t think cutting 0.012% of the federal budget counts as “radically reforming” it.

Still not convinced? The thing is, private corporations and public institutions alike both benefit from and support the NEA. For every dollar spent via NEA grants, another $9 is leveraged from both public and private sources.  Those dollars stretch far beyond the boundaries of many other federal agencies. Over 25% of NEA grant funds are funneled specifically into rural areas. Plus federal NEA grants and state grants under the organization’s purview reach constituents of all 435 US congressional districts. The NEA doesn’t discriminate based on race, color, class, or creed, and that is proven through the depth and breadth of their offerings and services.

Additionally, the work of the NEA truly makes a difference in the lives of children all across America. Numerous studies have shown that elementary and secondary school-aged children with access to arts education have higher achievement scores across the board, particularly when it comes to language and language acquisition. Public funding from the NEA ensures that over 18 million children have access to concerts, exhibitions, and performances all across the United States. NEA grants allow low-income children to receive elementary music education, places in arts-based after school programs, and high-level pre-collegiate training that they may be otherwise unable to afford. Taking away the NEA wouldn’t eliminate wasteful spending, but it would disproportionately impact accessibility to enriching services and programs for low-income and middle-class citizens all over the country.

These statistics don’t do much for you? Fine. Perhaps you identify more with visual storytelling (the kind of thing that the NEA exists to support). If that’s the case, please take less than 4 minutes out of your life to let an important cultural organization make the case for their continued existence, below:

I could keep citing statistics. I could continue to throw down myriad facts. I could bemoan the dearth of arts spending in the United States compared to the majority of our global peers. I could discuss how America’s arts spending is a mere 1/40th of Germany’s. I could talk to you about how the city of Vienna spends more on the arts each year than the NEA does for all 50 states and U.S. territories combined. There are so many things I could tell you about the state of art in the world.

But I won’t. Instead, I want to tell you a few of the reasons why art matters to me. Why providing platforms for citizens of our nation to express themselves are vitally important. I want to tell you why art should be accessible to everyone. Why we should work to let a variety of voices rise up in a cacophony of sound. I want to tell you why, of all the things that could help unite us in the coming years, art is the thing that really has a fighting chance. I want to tell you how dangerous it is to leave art behind. I want to tell you why the National Endowment for the Arts, really, truly matters:

Because music helped me find my voice when I felt most alone.

Because the children I work with grow and thrive the more they are taught to express themselves.

Because art is a means to better understand ourselves.

Because art is a means to better understand others.

Because acting as others teaches us about ourselves.

Because art is a well-spring for empathy.

Because sometimes, our shared humanity is not best expressed through words.

Because the human condition deserves to be displayed in all its forms.

Because discrimination has no place on stage.

Because a blank canvas can be used to show myriad truths.

Because art allows us to ask questions when we have no words.

Because the world opens up when we can see it from a new point of view.

Because communities of artists are some of the most welcoming I have ever known.

Because in art, there are no wrong answers.

Because art is art no matter how much money you have in the bank.

Because science and art aren’t mutually exclusively.

Because sometimes, science is art.

Because other times, art is the inspiration for science.

Because in a world with all of the colors, there are no walls.

Because when our voices speak together, there are no borders.

Because you can never take art away from me.

Because even in the darkest hours, and the deepest shadows, artists never stop creating.

Because art is accountability.

Because art survives

Because art is for everyone.

So take it away. Go ahead. It won’t stop me. It won’t stop us. If they take away the NEA, then I’ll go to the schools I work with and give music lessons for free. I will dance with children in the streets and sing at the top of my voice. I will sit with children in the park and let them know the beauty of Mozart, the transcendental mystery of Berg. I will write and write and write until I have no more words and then I will write some more.

I will reach out. I will speak out. I will speak up. I will sing until my voice is gone and I won’t regret one single moment.

Art matters.

–S

Day 19: January 19, 2017

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