The politics of art
Much was made of Mitt Romney’s attack on Big Bird during the first presidential debate, creating some pretty funny stuff that exploded all over the blogosphere and Facebook. But all joking aside, Romney, if elected, will not only deliver Big Bird on a giant platter, he will cut and slash all federal arts funding. And it really will be “all,” if he and a Republican Senate majority get their way. He pronounced as much last August in a CNN Fortune interview.
The arts are a vital part of any civilized society, and how we treat the arts in this country speaks volumes about our cultural identity and where it might be headed. Already, U.S. spending on the arts lags behind most of Europe, Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand.
Romney’s plan to reduce our five trillion dollar deficit by dismantling PBS and the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities is beyond ludicrous. The taxpayer cost of PBS and NEA funding is less than the one-day cost of our wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yes, you read that right – one day.
Last Monday I had the honor of seeing Eureka Springs artist and good friend Zeek Taylor accept his Arkansas Arts Council Governor’s award for Lifetime Achievement in the Arts at an awards luncheon at the Peabody Hotel in Little Rock. It was a proud and emotional moment when Zeek took the stage to shake Gov. Beebe’s hand.
Beebe and his wife, Ginger, have been strong supporters of the arts in Arkansas, and Beebe spoke of the importance of the arts and their lucrative economic impact on our state.
Last year, Kansas was the first state to eliminate all arts funding under the leadership of Gov. Sam Brownback. This year, the enlightened right wing governor reversed his controversial cuts and reinstated $700,000 back into the arts. Apparently, Brownback lost out on $1.7 million in matching federal funds; was unprepared for the mounting criticism from even his conservative base; and oblivious to the amount of revenue generated by the arts in his state.
I have to admit my bias as someone on the receiving end of arts funding. A Canada Council Grant in the early ‘80s allowed me to leave my homeland and explore my new life as a visual artist, and last year I was honored to be the recipient of an Arkansas Arts Council Individual Fellowship.
And this is much more than just the money, which admittedly came in handy, it was also a huge boost to my confidence as an artist from my peers – a Sally Field, “you like me, you really, really like me,” moment.
I’m not sure of the price tag one can put on the arts, but seeing my friend and colleague Zeek Taylor receive his award for a lifetime spent doing the only thing he ever wanted to do – was priceless.