We couldn’t help but notice, among the many amendments to the stimulus package, the one added by Oklahoma Republican Sen. Tom Coburn, which barred the use of any stimulus package funding for “any casino or other gambling establishment, aquarium, zoo, golf course, swimming pool, stadium, community park, museum, theater, art center, and highway beautification project.”
Leaving aside our certainty that, amendment or no, Sen. Coburn had no intention of voting for the stimulus package (he opposed it vocally), here’s a simple question: Why are arts, entertainment and recreation the sectors of the economy that consistently get ignored?
It’s not an accident that among the most successful elements of the New Deal (and yes, the New Deal did stimulate the economy and encourage employment) were programs aimed at funding the arts. The Federal Theatre Project brought the stage experience to hundreds of thousands of people (not to mention giving us the first ever production of a “voodoo” Macbeth), while the Works Progress Administration funded public art and performance all over the nation.
We’ve noticed, as our readers surely have, the toll that the current economic meltdown has taken on local arts and entertainment ventures. It makes a warped sort of sense, really; when we’ve got less to spend, the first place we think of cutting the budget is what we might call “luxuries.”
But art is not a luxury.
Art is a necessity of the human spirit and a necessity of our culture. Without culture, what’s the point of money? What’s more, in these times, when the specter of poverty hovers over all of us, more than anything else our souls need nourishing. That’s where art comes in. It feeds the soul, and no art is more soul-filling than the performing arts.
We’ve read, with sinking hearts, that local performing arts venues and companies are cutting back: shorter seasons, smaller venues, leaner productions. But there is something we can do about it.
We need to remind ourselves that art is not a luxury; that money has no value unless it is backed by a culture worth having; that our time on Earth is too short to be deprived of beauty. We need to shop local, yes. We also need to play local.
And so we ask, even as many of our readers are faced with cuts in salary or job losses, that in balancing our finances we don’t forget to balance our spirits with an infusion of art.
See a play. Go to the ballet. Visit a local museum. Go hear a band, even if the cover charge means you’ll have to skip a latte or two. Many of our performing-arts groups are offering special deals on tickets, and you’ll undoubtedly be surprised at just how good our local performing and visual artists are at what they do.
And make sure that your elected officials know that funding the arts is stimulus spending: Not only does it stimulate the economy, it stimulates our hearts and minds.