In an op-ed published last week in the Washington Post titled "No Bailout For the Arts?", Michael Kaiser, the president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, makes the affirmative case for increasing government funding of the arts during this time of economic turmoil:
"The arts have historically received short shrift from our political leaders, who all too often seem happy to offer bland endorsements of our work without backing those words with financial appropriations. But the arts in the United States provide 5.7 million jobs and account for $166 billion in economic activity annually. This sector is at serious risk. Because the arts are so fragmented, no single organization's demise threatens the greater economy and claims headlines. But thousands of organizations, and the state of America's arts ecology,are in danger.The relevance to jazz in St. Louis is that many of our important local jazz presenters, such as Jazz St. Louis and the Sheldon Concert Hall, are not-for-profit organizations. Yes, they sell tickets and solicit money from individual and corporate donors, but they also are funded in part with money that comes from grant-making organizations such as the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), the state equivalent, which is the Missouri Arts Council, and the St. Louis-specific Regional Arts Commission.
We need an emergency grant for arts organizations in America, and we need legislation that allows unusual access to endowments. Washington must encourage foundations to increase their spending rates during this crisis, and we need immediate tax breaks for corporate giving...
As John F. Kennedy said, "I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for our victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit." As we print billions of dollars in bailout money, isn't it time to ensure that we are saving our soul as well as our economy?"
Making more federal money available to arts organizations would ensure their continued viability in a time when individual and corporate donations and ticket sales are almost inevitably going to take a hit. And the dollar amounts involved are, by the contemporary standards of $700 billion Wall Street bailouts and trillion-dollar wars, relatively trivial.
The NEA is the largest source of federal funding for for the arts, and has an annual budget in the range of $150 million. That's "million" with an "m," so if even a tiny sliver of the proposed $800 billion stimulus package were devoted to additional arts funding, it would represent a huge relative increase.
If you agree with Kaiser that the arts should get more funding as part of an economic recovery plan, you can go here or here for information on how to contact your elected representatives in the House and Senate and let them know how you feel.