Several weeks ago, immigrants across our country observed the Day without Immigrants to illustrate what our communities would look without them. It was a way to showcase their impact, and immediately made me think about the thing I’m most passionate about – the arts.
I started thinking about what a Day without Arts would look like. For me personally, other than the obvious change of not being employed in the arts, it would remove virtually everything I love in this world, but I’m an unapologetic arts junky. I danced from the age of three until I graduated high school and was in a ballet company. I’m a music fanatic and can define every period of my life by my favorite bands or musicians at that time. I studied art in college and have tried almost every visual arts discipline imaginable (granted, I wasn’t particularly great at any of them). If my house were burning down, other than my husband, my dogs, and my wallet, the next thing I’d grab would be my treasured watercolor painting of a ballerina by Raleigh artist Ryan Fox.
Obviously my life is immersed in the arts, and I’m thankful for that. But I’d challenge you to find one person whose life would not be impacted in some way if the arts were to disappear for one day. Imagine not having music, no radio on your drive to work, no concerts, no Bach, Beethoven, Elvis, or James Brown. Imagine if the theatre arts disappeared. No actors or production staff employed by your favorite sitcoms or movies. No Broadway. No Oscars. Imagine a world without dance. No Fred, no Ginger, no Martha Graham. No ballet classes for your daughter. Imagine a world void of visual arts. Imagine not only blank walls, but the Sistine Chapel without Michelangelo. Your church without its stained glass. Imagine a complete removal of the design elements that make our world visually appealing. A creative person, with education and training in the arts, designed the fabric of the couch you’re sitting on, the latest game you can’t stop playing on your iPhone, the architecture that makes your house “home” and not a utilitarian concrete box where you sleep at night. Imagine world without books. No Dickens, no Twain, no Harry Potter.
Our schools without the arts would mean more than simply no band practice for little Johnny, or no homemade art projects covering your refrigerator. It would mean an abandonment of the creative learners. It would mean lower standardized test scores and higher drop-out rates. “Arts Integration” is taking place in more of our schools now than ever before, and that’s because it works. When creative learners can add visual interpretation to topics such as math and science, their test scores improve and suddenly these foreign concepts make sense. Does anyone else see the irony in the widespread removal of the arts in our schools at the same time that we are finally understanding how much they aid our students?
There’s a meme circulating around Facebook with a photo of Winston Churchill, stating that during World War II, when Churchill was asked about cutting funding for the arts, he responded with, “Then what are we fighting for?” This isn’t exactly true, and I credit my own education in the arts for the critical thinking required to not immediately take something at face value. What he actually said was, “The arts are essential to any complete national life. The State owes it to itself to sustain and encourage them. Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the reverence and delight which are their due.” Bottom line: the arts make the world a more pleasant place to exist. They are what make us human. They foster creativity which, in turn, drives innovation.
But all warm-fuzzies aside, the arts mean business. In a time when job creation is a constant talking point among our elected officials, they should keep in mind that the arts is a $704 billion industry, employing 4.1 million people. It represents a larger share of our economy than agriculture, transportation, mining, or tourism.
At the nucleus of this industry is the National Endowment for the Arts. Their $148 million budget (.004% of the total federal budget) is driving a $704 billion industry. Their .45 per capita spending reaches into metropolitan cultural centers, where, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, 29% of international travelers list “art gallery and museum visits” as their reason for coming to the U.S. It reaches into the most impoverished, rural communities in our country, bringing the arts to places hundreds of miles from the closest museum or arts center. One of the N.E.A.’s most important purposes is something that most people outside of the museum world do not realize – insurance. Yes, without the indemnity agreements provided by our federal government through the N.E.A., museums large and small would never be able to afford the insurance costs of housing exhibits. For example, in this New York Times article, Metropolitan Museum of Art director Thomas Campbell states an upcoming Michelangelo exhibit would cost $2.4 billion to insure. Not even the Met could come close to paying that much. The N.E.A. makes this possible.
Without the arts, the joy in our lives, as well as our economy, would be radically diminished. And without the N.E.A., the arts industry would be radically diminished. This would impact the entire country, including Orange County. The grants our agency provides to arts organizations and civic groups come from the N.C. Arts Council, which receives funding from the N.E.A. Some of our most loved local arts institutions would most certainly be impacted if the N.E.A. was defunded, including The Ackland Museum and Carolina Performing Arts at UNC, The ArtsCenter, Playmakers, FRANK Gallery, and the Hillsborough Arts Council.
Please, show your support for the arts and the N.E.A. Contact your elected officials. Sign this petition. Donate to our national advocacy group, Americans for the Arts and our state advocates, Arts North Carolina. Come to Arts Day March 28-29. Share this post.
Will the arts ever completely disappear? No. As long as humans roam the earth, there will be dancing and singing and painting; they are the lifeblood that make us human. But could our lives and local communities be significantly altered by de-funding the N.E.A.? Absolutely. So take action and make your voice heard. Let your legislators know you understand the value of the arts and want them to continue to boost our economy, help our students and make life enjoyable.
After all, as Winston Churchill absolutely did not say, what are we fighting for?