The Arts Matter

Photo: Chris White

Photo: Chris White

Today is Arts Advocacy Day and this is, perhaps, the most important one we've ever had. The Trump Administration released its budget proposal for the upcoming year last week which, among other things, calls to defund the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The arts are constantly under attack in our society, primarily from governments at all levels that seek to cut funding. Schools have to drastically scale back or shutter arts programs altogether because there is not enough in their budgets to keep them running. Look no further than a 1999 film entitled Music of the Heart. The film tells the true story of Roberta Guaspari, a schoolteacher who teaches violin to underprivileged kids at a Harlem school, but the board of education wants to cut the program. Throughout the film, Guaspari fights the board and the cuts to keep the school's program alive.

I can empathize with this as well. In my days as a grade school artist - I was a band geek and proud of it - we would do yearly fundraisers to help us go on competition trips and even have our own booster club to supplement the meager amount of money our program was budgeted. I had my own instrument, paid for by my money. Most of my classmates did too. There was talk one year about my high school symphonic band going to play in a competition at Carnegie Hall. We didn't go because of a lack of support. Just think about how incredible it would've been for a bunch of high school kids from North Carolina to play in one of the most revered performance venues in the country - the world, for that matter.

I tell you this because the arts matter. The arts matter in big cities, rural communities and everywhere in between. If the defunding of the NEA becomes reality, it would be catastrophic to the cultural fabric of our nation. It would especially be detrimental to rural communities. As Claire Fallon of the Huffington Post writes, New York and other large population centers benefit from wealthy patrons and successful venues while rural and impoverished communities rely almost exclusively on federal funding, through entities like the NEA, for arts programs. Fallon cites a Washington Post article that indicates 25 percent of the NEA's block-grant funds are allocated to rural communities while 54 percent go to low-income communities.

Randy I. Cohen, Vice President of Research and Policy at Americans for the Arts, released an article entitled "10 Reasons to Support the Arts" where he provides some very practical arguments as to why the arts matter. They are as follows: 

1.      Arts improve individual well-being.

2.      Arts unify communities.

4.      Arts strengthen the economy. 

5.      Arts are good for local businesses.

6.      Arts drive tourism. 

7.      Arts are an export industry. 

8.      Arts spark creativity and innovation. 

9.      Arts improve healthcare. 

10.    Arts and healing in the military. 

You can read about these in more detail here, but I'd like to talk about one of the items on this list in particular: "Arts improve individual well-being." I lost my first grandparent (my mom's mom) in 2011. Her health issues and subsequent passing took place while I was away at college. I was still a freshman and just finding my way at the time, so I didn't have many people I could talk to. What did I do? I turned to music. It got me through some dark times following her passing and continued to do so in the years that followed. I don't know where I'd be mentally if it wasn't for music, having lost not only her but both paternal grandparents and my dad as well in just six years time. Frankly, I'd probably be a ball of mush had it not been for me being able to escape the tribulations of life with music. That goes for film, photography and the theatre as well. All of which I've used not only as opportunities to express my creativity but escapes from daily life.

If you don't believe the NEA should be funded, I guess the arts don't matter to you. But just hear this: whether it's providing an escape, acting as a therapeutic agent (particularly with the military and PTSD), strengthening our economy, driving tourism and everything in between, the arts are a cornerstone of our society. My sincere hope is the information and personal story I've provided shine a light onto that.