Who Gets Your Vote This Election Season? The Arts!
I am often asked for my opinion of the best arts president in recent history. I can’t name one person, because there were in fact several presidents—both Republican and Democrat—who put us on a path to making the arts what they are today. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was envisioned by John F. Kennedy, a Democrat. It was created and put in place by Lyndon Johnson, a Democrat. The biggest percentage growth of the NEA’s budget was under Richard Nixon, a Republican. And the largest budget that it ever had was under Ronald Reagan, a Republican.
Whether Republican or Democrat or Independent, everyone can contribute to the growth of the arts in America. And for this reason, Americans for the Arts will be attending both the Republican National Convention—which kicked off yesterday in Cleveland—and the Democratic National Convention next week in Philadelphia.
Americans for the Arts Action Fund and our partners—the National Association of Music Merchants and the U.S. Conference of Mayors—we will engage policymakers, private sector leaders, and Americans for the Arts Artists Committee members Ben Folds and Ben Vereen for ArtsSpeak, a nonpartisan policy forum. There we will exchange ideas about the transformative power of the arts to impact learning, the economy, and healing, especially for wounded military veterans and their families.
Getting the word out to elected leaders about the inherent and practical value of the arts is critical. As Americans for the Arts has done for the last three political conventions, we will make the case for better policy and support for the arts and arts education in America. A pro-arts president is what we want and pro-arts elected officials on the national, state, and local levels.
We are urging the next president and the delegates voting on their party’s policy platforms to adopt the following four positions:
- Fund the NEA at a minimum rate of $1.00 per capita. The NEA is currently funded at a rate of 45 cents per capita—far less than twenty years ago, and about the same as in 1979;
- Establish a cabinet-level position for the arts and culture to advise the president on such matters as it impacts the economy, diplomacy, education, and the overall well-being of its citizens;
- Recognize the integral value of arts education (music, dance, theater, visual arts, and media arts) in creating a well-rounded education for every student to succeed;
- Preserve the charitable tax deduction incentives for giving to nonprofit arts groups.
These are important national issues. For instance, over its 50 years of promoting cultural heritage and vitality throughout the United States, the NEA has helped to build a cultural infrastructure of arts agencies in every state, including more than 95,000 nonprofit arts organizations, and 4,500 local arts agencies in cities throughout the country. The arts in our communities have a significant impact on the economy. According to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the arts and culture sector supported 4.7 million jobs and contributed $702 billion to the economy in 2013, representing 4.2 percent of the gross domestic product—a share of the economy larger than transportation, tourism, or agriculture.
For the future of our country, we also take a stand for arts education for our children and the essential life lessons that come with such an education. Arts education improves school culture and has a significant impact on motivation, attitudes, attendance—and sets students up for success in work and in life. Americans for the Arts’ recently released public opinion poll of 3,020 Americans over the age of 18, showed that 88 percent believe the arts are part of a well-rounded education for K-12 students. And 83 percent agree that the arts are important to students outside of the classroom and throughout the community. Yet, 27 percent of respondents believe that students in their community do not have enough access to the arts. In suburban and rural communities, lack-of-access percentages increase to 31 and 43 percent, respectively.
It is through education, along with artistry, economic development, and social services, that nonprofit arts organizations are able to respond to public needs and form community partnerships. This would not be possible without the charitable tax deduction, which for over 100 years has incentivized charitable giving to thousands of nonprofit organizations across the country. The average nonprofit arts organization relies on approximately 25 percent of its annual budget on generous charitable gifts from individuals. Out of this comes numerous programs, support for lifelong learning, preservation of our heritage and accessibility for all who wish to participate, the creation of jobs and economic growth, and vibrant artistry in our communities.
With all that the arts do for ourselves, our families, and our communities, it is no surprise to me that people who participate in the arts are also more likely to vote. As we start full steam ahead into election season, do your part and learn where the candidates stand on the arts. Use resources like the Arts Action Fund’s ArtsVote2016 page and Action Center, as well as presidential candidate memos and surveys and the Top 10 Questions to Ask both Congressional and Presidential Candidates. Know the issues. Republican, Democrat, or Independent, we can each do our part to stand up for the arts in America.
This blog was also posted on The Huffington Post.