Stimulating Arts

As many, I was so pleased to see that in the 600 Billion dollar stimulus that the Congress passed last week, 200 million goes to the arts. 200 million of 600 Billion. Not bad?

Of course, $150 million of that is for building repairs/upgrades at the Smithsonian. I love the Smithsonian. I’m a fan of the Smithsonian on Facebook. Love em. But we have to recognize the difference between supporting the arts, and supporting buildings, or organizations related to the arts.

Garth BrooksI happened across an article recently about Garth Brooks. The top-selling recording artist in history is donating to the Smithsonian:

his first gold record and cassette he received for the 1989 album “Garth Brooks”; handwritten lyric sheets for the song, “Beaches of Cheyenne” showing his revisions, a Takamine brand guitar, which Brooks smashed during his first NBC television special, “This Is Garth Brooks,” filmed in the Dallas in September1991; elements of a typical stage outfit, consisting of a Mo’ Betta shirt, black Wrangler jeans, black elephant-skin cowboy boots, a belt and a black Stetson Tyler cowboy hat with a label on the interior brim reading “made especially for Garth Brooks.”

This reminds me of the difference between the for-profit and the not-for-profit arts economies. Without judging Mr. Brooks, can’t we all admit that a new pavilion for his stuff is not really supporting the arts?

The stimulus money is in no way directly or in-directly related to the donations by Mr. Brooks. And as part of this country’s history I’m fine that Brooks’ stuff is at the Smithsonian. But I’d be fine if they were at the Rock and Roll Hotel in Vegas, or the Country Music Hall of Fame.

The Arts need support. $150 million for buildings out of $200 for the arts sucks, period. Not uncommonly, that 50 million – out of 600 Billion – has been particularly in the news as a sign of Democrats run amok. Artists and supporters of the arts need to give politicians their support as this goes to the senate. Supporting the Arts in the stimulus IS supporting the economy. NPR noted:

Arts groups large and small are hurting, just like every other industry: The Sacramento Ballet has canceled performances; the administrative staff of the Virginia Symphony Orchestra took a 20 percent pay cut; the Austin Museum of Art is postponing plans for a new museum downtown.

Some art institutions are shutting down altogether: The Milwaukee Shakespeare Theater Company is one example. The company closed its doors in October when its main supporter – the Argosy Foundation – cut its funding.

Michael KaiserThe NPR piece continues, quoting Kennedy Center president Michael Kaiser who stated:

“The arts as a totality in this country employs 5.7 million people,” Kaiser says, “so we’re not a small sector of this economy. Our employment levels are important to this economy.”

Garth Brooks and the for-profit arts center will be fine through this time. But for the existing arts sector not to go down we need more public arts funding, because private funding is down. Stimulating arts, and the arts economy, requires funding. This should be in the stimulus, not apologetically, but because it makes economic, and art, sense.

Author: Robert Bettmann

Founder of Day Eight, and the DC Arts Writing Fellowship.