Stimulus Bill Compromise Will Help Save Thousands of Arts Workers Jobs
Posted by Feb 13, 2009 1 comment
It was not politics as usual in Washington, as the Congressional conferees’ final version of the bill seized the opportunity to provide much-needed stimulus support for the nation’s creative workforce. The National Endowment for the Arts will distribute $50 million of the stimulus funds to arts projects in all 50 states which specifically preserve jobs in the nonprofit arts sector that have been most hurt by the economic downturn. Additionally, the final version of the stimulus bill further recognized the role the arts play in the overall U.S. economy by removing the Senate ban on state and local governments from using any of the recovery funds to benefit museums, theaters, and art centers.
The nation’s 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences generate $166.2 billion annually in U.S. economic activity. They support 5.7 million jobs and provide nearly $30 billion in government revenue. This economic stimulus will minimize the concern that ten percent of arts groups could close this year and helps save thousands of arts workers from losing their jobs.
We applaud the leadership of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, House Appropriations Chair David Obey, House Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior Chair Rep. Norm Dicks, and Congressional Arts Caucus Co-Chair Rep. Louise Slaughter. Their clear understanding of the economic impact of the arts has helped to educate the entire Congress on this important issue.
President Obama has said he wants ‘to use the bully pulpit...to promote the importance of arts and arts education in America’ because ‘the arts help to promote the economic development of countless communities.’ As the legislative agenda continues beyond the stimulus bill, leaders in Washington—both Democrat and Republican—should continue to recognize and firmly support the essential contribution of the arts to the growth of our economy. The arts provide cultural and economic benefits and real jobs for real people. They are fundamental in putting Americans back to work.
Not all the NEA visual arts programs actually work. More than any of NEA's current visual arts grants, the Visual Artist Fellowship Program program recognized achievement and encouraged innovation until its discontinuation in 1995. Congress and the NEA should immediately move to restore this valuable program.
I personally benefitted from studying with an NEA Fellow as a college student in New York in 1987-8. My ceramics teacher then was James Makins, who won Fellowships in 1976 and 1980. His innovative wheel-thrown porcelinware was somewhere between the palette of Italian still life painter Giorgio Morandi and the whimsical shapes of Dr. Seuss. His students developed technical proficiency, a spirit of improvisation and a critical eye. The Visual Artist Fellowship was a valuable and effective program, reaching well beyond the individual recipient.
The current effect of NEA support for visual artists is diluted at the state level. State programs do not have near the same career impact. State individual grants (for Florida) are $5,000 while the NEA still awards Literature Fellowships of $25,000. Given that visual arts disciplines--ceramics, sculpture, painting, photography--are more expensive, a grant amount of $30,000 would carry equal weight. The national Visual Arts Fellowship needs to be restored.
Visual artists have been marginalized by Congress and the NEA since 1995. We need to make their voices heard on how the NEA handles these funds.