Tuesday, January 24, 2017

How the NEA Benefits Us

Trump has resurrected an old plan the GOP has tried a few times before to eliminate the National Endowments for Arts and Humanities.

So I dug into the NEA archives and have been studying the NEA Grant list covering the last 10 years.

Here are things the NEA has helped fund in the last 10 years in the form of 42,485 grants, large and small:

Helped fund 319 Arts Apprenticeship programs across the nation, mostly for underserved (youth, minority, etc) teens, helping them get skills to preserve culture or get careers (or both).

Gave over 4000 grants to organizations to provide arts instruction free to poor kids and teens.

Gave over 7100 grants to help artists create their artworks, usually in the form of grants for artists residencies that connected professional artists with poor or disadvantaged youth for free lessons and workshops, brought artists to schools, or that provided entertainment for communities that couldn't otherwise have art because it's too expensive (plays, music performances, etc).

Gave 115 grants to organizations that give free tickets to kids to see professional shows.

Gave over 1100 grants to help produce radio and TV shows and audio recordings--mostly ones you see on PBS, but also ones that preserve our musical, folklife, and artistic history and present them to us.

Gave over 30 grants to organizations to expose Americans to the arts of the world, including groups that give free tickets and transportation to inner city kids and families to go to arts festivals and see all the shows free.

Gave over 1500 grants to make the arts accessible to the public (think arts weeks in schools, concerts, theater performances, museum exhibits, etc. Any time you saw art in your community, there's a good chance one of these grants was involved).

Gave over 10,000 grants to help support performances for the public. Even the highest calibre theater productions need help. It costs a fortune to put on any performance of anything any time, and the cost is prohibitive without grants. Without these grants, only the very wealthy would be able to go to performances, and most professional art in the nation would end. This would be a massive loss to the artistic community (nearly all artists would be out of jobs, as would theater staff, costume designers, tech guys, etc), as well as to our communities (because you couldn't afford to go to shows anymore, if there were any outside of NY and LA).

Gave 285 grants to help schools and organizations develop curriculum to teach kids and teachers about art. I use these materials all the time, and they're fantastic. It would be a great loss to the education and culture of our future if our students could never learn about art.

Gave 180 grants to organizations that provide art, movies, books, museum catalogs, CDs, etc to libraries and museums. 

Gave 5 grants to help theaters get necessary equipment--mostly computers and software to help modernize old theaters.

Gave over 2800 grants to museums and cities to display art.

Gave 3 small grants to help build museums in communities.

Gave over 2600 grants to help fund arts festivals.

Gave nearly 1100 grants to fund fellowships in the arts, keeping the arts in our colleges as well.

Gave over 500 grants to help organizations digitize and preserve their art collections. 

Gave 24 grants to help fund community arts programs, lectures, and classes, which often benefit disadvantaged children and the elderly.

Gave over 170 grants to help artistic journals stay afloat and to help communities promote their arts festivals.

Gave 519 grants to hard-to-categorize projects, most of which either brought art to poor children or helped preserve art and folklife and make it accessible to educators.

Gave almost 1200 grants to keep state arts councils alive.

Gave over 1800 grants to help theater and musical organizations bring their performances to areas that don't have theater or musical performances being produced locally (things like Shakespeare in the Park, or arts tours to rural, poor communities).

Gave over 1400 grants to help professional artists pass their skills on to the next generation and preserve dying arts.

Gave over 560 grants to help support arts organizations staff.

Gave over 1100 grants to help professional arts groups (theater companies, groups that bring art classes to inner city teens, etc) bring art to poor areas and to survive the economic crash of 2008.

Gave over 1300 grants to publications on the arts, especially magazines that help new writers get published and showcased.

Gave over 120 grants to organizations that give grants on a local level to artists, music, education programs, etc, that were likely going out of business due to decline in donations after the economic crash of 2008.

Gave over 580 grants to conserve existing art.

Gave over 1300 grants to help community planning to include the arts, organizational planning to help organizations like Ballet West stay in business, and research on how the arts can help people.

Gave nearly 500 grants to support arts conferences (like writer's conferences, arts alliance conferences, booking conferences, etc).

Helped fund 107 endowments in the arts.

Gave over 240 grants to train arts organizations or their employees (or both) how to do their jobs.

Funded the translation of over 220 works of literature into English.

Gave over 300 grants for the development and maintenance of websites on the arts.

Gave over 100 grants to support writing about art (journalism, books, etc).

Most of the grants they give are not very big for them, but are huge to the recipients. Without those grants, they would not likely stay in business. Or at least their services/tickets would become so prohibitively expensive that the arts would become the playground of only the very wealthy.

All of these projects the NEA funded or helped fund in the last 10 years had tangible, local, community influence. These are all things that touched individual and local community lives. In fact, if you did anything that involved any of the arts in the last 10 years on a community level (arts festivals, live performances, community performances, museums, arts education, libraries, etc.), you personally benefited personally from the work of the NEA.

The data shows that in the last 10 years alone, every single congressional district in the entire country plus all the commonwealths and territories have benefited from the work the NEA does at least 3 times (and all but one benefited four or more times). And that's just counting the grants. That's not counting other work they do, projects they run themselves, all the educational materials they produce themselves.

The obvious question is "Why would the government have any business funding these kinds of things?"

Here are my thoughts:

There are things that benefit our culture and our country as a whole that we value and that make life worthwhile for individuals and communities. There are things that keep people alive, and then there are things that make life worth living, that make people happy, that give families edifying and bonding experiences, that make our communities wonderful places to live.

Unfortunately, a lot of those enriching things are expensive to pay for, especially on a local community level. Most of the arts are prohibitively expensive. One of the functions of the federal government is to bolster communities in their efforts to make life worthwhile, to educate children, and to keep communities safe and happy. When something is expensive and not likely to return the investment to money-makers, but is worthwhile and valuable for making America wonderful, the government steps in to help. That's how we have infrastructure like bridges. That's how we have public education. That's how we have public universities. That's how we have national parks. And, even though the arts stuff is produced on the local level or in the schools, that's how we have arts in our communities, too.

I don't think people are aware how much the arts cost (and that's not funding them well at all--artists and arts organizations are usually starving!), but people appreciate the existence of arts in schools and in their communities. And I'm sure that most people are not aware that the federal government is quietly playing a role in helping all the arts and arts organizations to not collapse and disappear.

Historically speaking, communities have established and advertised their value and sophistication by providing arts for their members. Even in the old west, towns would prove they were established, civilized, and great places to live by funding town brass bands, theaters, and opera houses. They held festivals and parties and dances that featured live music. They put on shows. They paid for statues or commemorative paintings. They brought in travelling exhibitions and touring music ensembles. Even in the old west! This is not a new thing. The arts make life wonderful. The arts are so important that even in frontier Utah, Brigham Young made sure artists were getting top-notch training in Europe so they could come back and produce art for the frontiersmen. People need art. People need literature. People need music and dance and theater. Their bodies might not die without it, but their souls and their communities do.

The work of the NEA touches every one of our lives, and it would be a massive blow to arts in the United States, to our quality of life, and to our art communities (who would not exist without the help of the government--especially in the digital age where people believe that their art and music should be free). Without the support of things like residencies, state arts councils, arts tours, and community fairs and festivals, concert series, etc, I don't know of any artists that would survive, since individual consumers largely refuse to pay for their arts anymore. The entirety of arts would suffer because nobody wants to fund something that benefits people but does not bring any return on the investment in terms of dollars and cents. You won't get rich bankrolling the arts, so nobody wants to do it.

That's why, if we want or need any of the arts where we can touch them--in our homes, in our schools, in our communities, we need the NEA. This isn't some far-off program that only touches professional artists in New York and LA. This is a program that brings art to all of us, to enrich all of our lives.

Yes, there are philanthropists who donate huge amounts to the arts. But it takes them and the NEA to keep things going, and to keep arts in our communities. Philanthropists don't have the reach or the resources the government has. And, judging by the NEA rolls, the philanthropy drops off just when the people need arts the most: when the economy crashes and life gets hard.

What I'm trying to say is I dug through their data, which is freely available on their site, and it is clear if you look at what they actually do that our whole country would suffer a great loss if the NEA were erased. It would cause economic loss in every community that uses NEA funds (lost jobs, lost tourist dollars, lost arts dollars, lost "ripple" dollar). It would damage our educational systems. It would hurt our museums and libraries. It would make our lives more bleak. It would remove access to the arts from all the poor, the elderly, the disabled, and thousands upon thousands of communities that function fine but can't necessarily afford a theater or don't have enough dancers for a dance company or singers for a choir. Everything would be more expensive and less available. Our country would be a sadder, grayer, more unhappy, less healthy place.

A quick google search can show you (as it did me) that there are hundreds of research papers discussing the value of arts in our communities, for our youth especially, and in our schools. (This, for example, discusses the difficulties of discussing the issue at all, but covers a lot of different kinds of benefits the arts have for all of us: http://www.mvgeorgia.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/art-and-community.pdf.)

I know the regular conservative "line" is that the government has no business funding the arts. But the government does have business funding things that improve our lives that the free market won't fund because it's not cost-effective. Like roads. Charity health clinics. Public schools. Libraries. Museums. National Parks. And community arts.

And, quite frankly, I don't want to live in a world without the arts, and without the NEA, we who are poor are destined to just that.

Sunday, January 01, 2017

Emmy says....

Em, just a week shy of 2 years old, just excitedly brought me a DVD and said, "It has clues clues on it!" (her name for Blues Clues).

No, but it did have the movie "Clue" on it.

I guess she recognized the word? As in, she read it by memorizing the shape of that word? She can't even reliably name the letters yet (last she told me, the alphabet was, "A, B, Moon, Emmeline, Daniel...."), but I guess she can read that one word.