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The true mandate: fund the arts.

The loud talk by the leaders of the new Republican majority about cutting taxes, increasing defense spending, and reducing the costs of government will translate into even further attempts to reduce the very small amounts of money the federal government channels into the arts through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which has funded over 100,000 projects in the past twenty-nine years. As a result of the midterm elections this past November, new dynamics are at work in Washington. Rep. Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.), who almost single-handedly this past summer killed one of Congress's major efforts at reform, the anti-lobbying bill, and who now stresses his determination to deport all illegal aliens, returns this month as the powerful Speaker of the House. One of his cronies, Rep. Richard Armey (R-Tex.), an ardent enemy of the arts endowment who suggested two years ago that part of the money that the federal government now grants the NEA should go to the states with the balance distributed to artists in a national lottery, is the new Majority Leader of the House. And Rep. Robert Walker (R-Pa.) is the new Majority Whip. Together with the new Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), they have decided to eliminate the NEA (along with funding for public television)--contrary to the clearly voiced desires of their constituencies and the vast majority of Americans.

Why is federal support for the arts necessary?

"Art is a nation's most precious heritage," President Lyndon Johnson said in 1965 when signing the bill that brought the NEA into being. "For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish."

NEA dollars for the arts, although not sufficient, tend to generate more money from other sources, setting a philanthropic example. There is no question that the arts enhance the quality of our lives, just as we all benefit from our government being seen as humane and enlightened through its arts support. The arts are also of major importance to our nation's economic vitality, as recent studies have shown.

Unscrupulous politicians, willing to sell their principles for short-term political gains, have discovered that the arts make a cheap and vulnerable target that, when attacked, will generate newspaper and TV copy, particularly valuable when elections are coming up. All good art, I suggest, is political, if by political we mean it represents a particular point of view and contains comment on people and the choices they have made. Silencing the voices of artists is a priority among those most threatened by freedom of speech and thought; there is a dangerous trend in America toward this kind of "conservatism," often cloaked in religious trappings, the new Christian Right being the most organized and visible example at the moment.

What is not good for the arts is not good for the people.

The November elections resulted in substantial change, even if the spinmasters can't agree on change to what. The notion that Washington politicians are not hearing the voice of the people--the very people who elect them and who have been endlessly polled and interviewed--seems absurd. Perhaps we, the people, are being heard, but ignored. Or perhaps the widespread disgust with Washington arises not so much from the elected officials as from the unelected special interest groups that would like to take control. But you can bet that behind the most belligerent claims to understand the Republican Party's sweep in November's midterm elections, there lurks an agenda--and not necessarily an agenda that is favorable either to the people--only 39 percent of whom chose to vote--or to the arts, which the people support but which many of their more conservative elected representatives do not.

Will the new Republican majority listen to the people with any kinder interest or gentler intentions than they have in the past?

What do the American people really want?

A very important study called "Americans and the Arts VI" was prepared for the American Council for the Arts in 1992, and it shows that:

* A 60-percent majority of Americans support federal financing of the arts. State government funding of the arts is supported by 63 percent.

* An 84-percent majority endorses the proposition that "good art is a reflection of the life and times of a nation and a culture, including expressions which support as well as criticize existing values."

* A 75-percent majority holds the view that "government can be helpful to artists in funding their work and in helping them gain recognition, but government must not dictate to the artist what the artist should create."

* When asked about tax cuts, 69 percent advocates raising federal taxes by $5 per year to support the arts; 64 percent agrees to the idea of a $10 increase; and 56 percent, a $15 increase per person to fund the arts.

* Ninety percent feel that the arts are an essential part of a child's education and development. This overwhelming majority of Americans believes that the arts should be a regular, required part of the school curriculum. And 57 percent would cut spending on school sports programs before cutting the arts.

Rather than a revolution, this could very well be a time of evolution for supporting the arts in America--if we remember what you, the voters, want, and if our politicians have the courage to stick to their midterm promises to listen to the people who elected them.

It's time for that kind of change.
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Title Annotation:popular support for federal aid to the arts
Author:Philp, Richard
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Editorial
Date:Jan 1, 1995
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