Fore? Photo: Dan Perry.

Folks, we have a lot of work ahead of us.

To wrap up the thread I started, the plot in US politics, in the space of a few short weeks, has gone something like this:

1. A new Administration could bring new vision to making the arts part of the economy.
2. Arts spending is wasteful.
3. Any spending on anything should be specifically prohibited from reaching the arts, as that would be wasteful and evil, and the arts are the best symbol of Waste itself.

I live on Wall Street (technically, on the corner of Pine). I guess we’ve now forgotten about them.

As digital musicians and visualists, relevancy to the rest of the people around us is important. What we do can be meaningful to people, and it can pay for our health care and our loved ones and our kids. It’s often not a life or death thing – but then, neither are many jobs. It’s a gig. Heck, even if it’s a hobby, it supports someone else’s gig.

So that raises some really deep questions about what’s going on with our society when arts-related jobs are singled out above nearly every other sector as meaningless or “wasteful” or not “real jobs.” This stimulus bill will pass, but that fundamental misunderstanding isn’t going anywhere – and it’s time to recognize there’s a problem, and start to work to set it right.

Roughly half of one one hundredth of one percent of the US economic stimulus plan was slated to support job protection in the arts — US$50 million. Meanwhile, we’ve just passed one trillion-dollar bailout of finance and are told another trillion is needed.

You might expect anger to be directed at finance, given their industry was at the heart of the problem. Instead, legislators single out — the arts?

In last-minute negotiations in the US Senate, legislators — including key liberal Democrats — have gone still further to ban any use of stimulus funds for the arts (“museums,” “theaters,” and “arts centers” get singled out). The move was largely symbolically-motivated, not fiscally-motivated. Adding insult to injury, arts institutions are lumped together with casinos and golf courses – literally.

U.S. Senate votes against arts [Chicago Examiner]

Arts Bashing [Center for American Progress]

Some of those Democrats, incidentally, are now pleading ignorance – including my own Senator Schumer:
UPDATE: Senator Charles Schumer in Hot Water With Local Arts Organizations [New York Magazine]

I had really hoped to leave this issue rest, but I want to be clear: this ban would cover appropriations for Labor, Education, and Transportation that could also give funds to arts organizations. It doesn’t just strip the $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts — it locks out any arts activity from the nearly trillion dollars in the rest of the plan. If you make roads, you count – if you make art, you don’t. Senator Coburn, who introduced the amendment, didn’t even vote for the final bill, meaning this wasn’t even a concession to get the bill passed.

This ceases to be a legislative issue. It’s now a cultural war — one that’s being waged by both parties on a target that lacks powerful, rich advocates. That’ll be — you. And we know from CDM readers around the planet that this is an issue in other countries, too.

You may not believe in lots of government funding for the arts — I’d tend to agree with you, in that it’s not a panacea. But these were a small amount of funds intended to support jobs in arts organizations, which receive lots of their funding from you and from private interests. If you believe in public and private (and not government) funding for the arts, this is exactly the kind of targeted stimulus you want, and it could save thousands of real jobs.

Ironically, it’s in the US that we have the strongest private funding for the arts, which is a good thing. American Institutes for the Arts, the advocacy group supporting greater government funding, isn’t looking for handouts; they point out that every $1 spent by the federal agency would be matched from $7 in public and private funds. That means a $50 million NEA stimulus could have saved or created 14,422 jobs by their estimate.

OPEN FORUM: Economic stimulus should invest in creativity [San Francisco Chronicle]

I’m certainly not in line for a government handout. But am I angry when I hear “real jobs” as the talking point? Am I angry when people in the arts are considered lower than condoms? Heck, yeah.

From a Republican campaign ad airing on the radio next week:

Democrats said they would fight for fiscal responsibility in Washington, but went back on their promise by voting for $335 million in STD prevention, $75 million for smoking cessation and even $50 million for the National Endowment of the Arts.

(emphasis mine)

GOP radio ads to target House Dems who supported stimulus [USA Today On Politics]

Or as Representative Jack Kingston, R-Georgia put it:

“We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA and pretending that’s going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a road project is disingenuous.”

Congressman Blasts Arts Jobs [Volume One]
Arts jobs are real jobs [Los Angeles Times]

The arts are the punchline – and the punching bag. I’m all for fiscal responsibility, but given the current banking crisis, is it really money for the arts that’s fiscally irresponsible?

Look, policy is one thing. The battle over economic stimulus was bound to be contentious, and the dangers facing the US and world economy have put immense pressure on the process. I think in a way, just getting defensive on this issue is exactly what anti-arts advocates want artists to have to do.

My question is fundamental: why can’t the arts and “entertainment” be considered part of the economy? And what do we have to do, exactly, to convince people that there are real jobs that don’t involve building roads?

Side note: so many people are complaining about this issue (try a Google or Technorati search) that I’m hopeful the final bill will nix this nonsense and protect arts funding, or even the NEA. But as I say, it’s really the fundamental debate that needs fixing more than any one bill.

  • Damon

    Democrats, Republicans Join to Ban Arts Stimulus, Declare Arts Worker Jobs Not “Real”

    Ok, so it is a software plug in, but the real question is, how does it sound.

  • Hmm…

    I just don't see any reason why the government shouldn't provide the arts industry with stimulus money. It's not as if they're out to be frugal. If they're handing out loaned money that they are apparently never planning to pay back, why not just borrow some more and spread it around? I'm sure China would be glad to give it to us… Truth be told, I seriously doubt that this gross expenditure by the feds will do any significant good.

  • Silverfish

    I haven't read all of the articles linked in the post, but I thought I'd ask:

    If arts are not recognized by some as "real jobs", then what steps can be taken by artists to correct or improve this inaccurate perception?

  • Silverfish

    LOL. Please disregard my post, as I missed the last paragraph.

  • To answer your question re: why can't the arts and 'entertainment' be considered part of the economy. Entertainment is. The arts unfortunately isn't seen as valuable until it becomes entertainment. And thus is judged by the standards of the entertainment industry. I think the biggest mistake is the pairing of the two. We know why it happens but should it. Should it always be arts & entertainment because there's an entertainment channel that says so.

    The entertainment industry has a strong lobby, the arts not so much. And on a whole the non-arts public has been convinced that the arts are entertainment.


  • brutal. It's ridiculous the political game playing that happens at the expense of those without a voice, in this case us.

    In general I agree fully with the sentiments of the article, but in this specific case is arts spending "stimulative" (as that's what the bill is supposed to be) or is it something trying to be pushed through because people might not notice? I want the $50 million to be spent on arts too, but as a matter of policy, perhaps the people who put it in this bill were setting themselves up for a fight.

    Maybe it is stimulative and a well calculated part of the package… it's probably MORE stimulative than the stupid tax cuts.

  • @Primus: Unfortunately, the entertainment industry has also been a favorite punching bag in this debate, albeit not as easy to vilify (evidently) as the not-for-profit sector.

    But that says to me that all of these interrelated creative sectors could be described as such.

    @Adam: Could be, but my sense is that this was intended as "stimulative" — and that they were sure people would notice. Originally, the Administration had asked for more, and in turn the Administration's advisors wanted more. So I think they assumed people would notice and complain, so they'd better choose an innocuous sum.

    It's really a tough situation, because it's lose-lose, unless you cave and leave it out entirely.

    In fairness, I don't think the Senate was really aware of what they were voting for with this amendment. It would be nice if our elected representatives *read* the bills they voted for, but they often don't or don't pay enough attention.

    What ultimately frustrates me is that the debate devolves so quickly.

  • @Damon:

    It sounds terrible. It does have a hard-wired feedback loop, though.

    Now if we just had a gain control – or kill switch.

  • josh

    What can artists do? Participation in discussions like this are certainly significant. Bring it up with all the artists you know, bring it up at the dinner table, at work. I think that for one, there are a lot of people who would help us stand up to this stupidity if they just knew it was happening.

    I'm educating myself as much as possible about how non-profit art organizations work, and the history and dynamics of the political issues that affect artists and their support systems. Maybe if we all were able to argue a little more eloquently for the arts – philosophically why its important, AND economically, this type of ignorance would have a tougher time suriving. Lets not forget, too – there are a lot of us.

  • Wendell

    Ugh. I'm sorry to get into politics too much, but with the Dems not growing a backbone (even on Darwin's 200th) and now this, I'm pretty irked. (Strong retro language, I know! Mouth, meet soap.) The arts are not a luxury but a necessity. They improve quality of life, they provide a very certain kind of play/fun/wonder that is rarely found elsewhere. Sure, I'm speaking in ideal terms, but my god this anti-intellectual, anti-culture nonsense seems like it has been embedded in the District of Columbia from the previous eight years. /rant

  • I should say — I'm being hard on the Dems, but partly because all this frustration around the country is likely to get their attention. (Well, and the one legislative assistant somewhere who runs Ableton Live on weekends.)

    I suspect that the Dems were basically duped into voting for the amendment and didn't pay attention. It's also possible that this stuff will find its way back into tomorrow's compromise bill, the one that gets signed. That's why the real battle is to stop vilifying the arts in the first place – even if we have to win over people naturally suspicious of creative people.

    And I think one way to do that is to get the "arts" and "entertainment," the "pro" and "amateur," the "profit" and "not-for-profit" working together, because a lot of us want the same things.

  • Mmmm, anti-intellectualism at its finest! No real surprise here. Terribly disappointing, but ultimately more of the same. I will continue to do everything I can in my little world to bring attention to the arts, but something's gotta give at the top level of power. The only way I see this situation improving is through a radical shift in the way the average American thinks about and prioritizes art. That's unfortunately not going to happen overnight.

  • Coincidentally this week my wife read me this quote from Brent Cameron:

    "Writers on social evolution have observed that innovations tend to occur first in art. Artistic and creative process influences the field of science in adopting these ideas approximately a decade later. In another ten years, businesses begin to incorporate the innovations, and still a decade later, these ideas may filter into the educational system. Each field influences the next in an observable flow of social change, with education at the end of the chain."

    Cutting off our own feet it would seem.

  • Just tell the evil bastards we're "content providers of the information economy" and they'll be sure to pony up some cash.

    And I need some, too. I'm playing the Spark Festival (which STEIM and Beatrix JAR are also playing!!!) only 6 days from now and I just found a sale on a USB device that I'm pretty sure allows you to use your brainwaves as a joystick for $100. Sadly, my state is still up in the air over whether Franken or Coleman will be our congressman so I'm not sure which one to explain the Baldwinian social evolutionary benefits of bleeding edge musicians to.

  • naus3a

    i live in italy and here we're accostumed to this kind of stuff: here the money flows only to specific politically oriented art sectors.

  • 1. Sometimes federal funding for the arts restricts its ability to act as a tool for criticism.

    2. Artists are not creative in only making music and creating visuals. Being creative also calls for solutions that allow one to live within the system without selling out to it.

    3. The internet is your friend. If the federal government will not help take your work directly to the people whom you know are interested in what you do.

    In Europe artists here have somewhat of a fascination with artists in the U.S. because they feel that federal funding of the arts takes away some of the outsider 'spirit' and attitude that makes art stand out. To counter that point though there is a larger gradient between 'artist' and 'entertainer' in Europe that allows for a lot more people to participate in the activity of making art and doing performances.

    To some degree I think this is a blessing in disguise. If the arts can find ways to sustain itself without federal assistance then it will prove that the lack of funding cannot kill or suppress it. If the entertainment 'industry' is losing ground then the result will be that more and more people will look for alternatives. Especially in the realm of creating something that is more immediate and engaging and perhaps even intimate.

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  • thank you for keeping tabs on this issue, peter

  • I heard the congressman from Nashville (!) talking down the $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. I immediately called his office and let his staffers know that (blue dog democrat Cooper) was full of hot air on this issue. As a synthesist, jazz musician and former NEA artist-in-residence I had the facts and anecdotes to make my points clear.
    This creative community can change minds, but it will take lots of phone calls and outreach:
    senate phones:
    If Rush Limbaugh can get his folks to call, we can at least counteract them with some facts and persistence.
    Call them, they listen, they respond to numbers.
    @Kirn: thanks for highlghting this important issue.

  • ilan and naus3a – I think there's some misunderstanding in Europe of how US arts funding works. Federal funding in particular is now exclusively funding for infrastructure and institutions. It doesn't restrict artistic expression because it doesn't flow to individual artists in the first place. The NEA money here (the whopping $50 mil out of $800 bil) is intended to shore up the struggling not-for-profit sector, which has been hit hard like everyone else. The issue with the rest of the stimulus package is that it goes to other government agencies who might dole out small bits to that same sector (museums, arts centers, theaters).

    We're not talking about artists getting any money at all – we're talking about some of the institutions with which they interact getting a little bit of funding. And as these advocates are saying, that gets matched 7:1 by private/public (non-federal) funds.

    I think artists by and large are pretty independent. The US is gifted with this uniquely actively mix of public and private donors. The problem is, as an individual I can make up a shortcoming in a downturn. That may be less true of an arts organization — and that can in turn have a downstream effect on me, the individual. It might be as simple as my local radio station being unable to pay for its transmitter.

  • I'm not at all surprised. Arts programs are always the last to get funding and the first to get cut. This is seen most readily in our school systems. As soon as a district feels the pinch, poof, there goes art, there goes music.

    One could argue that arts programs are not critical to core education fundamentals. So, why then are athletics programs so well-funded?

    Arts programs have always been seen as fluff, superfluous and expendable. Even so, some part of me wants to draw a parallel with the decline of the perceived worth of recorded music in the post-napster age.

  • Culture Wars it is..with the last standing wingnut group in the Senate still trying to take down the evil NEA for all those nasty things the guvmint funded about Geebus and wee-wee.

    We have been having a discussion about this issue all week now..our 2 senators voted the amendment down (Durbin and Burris). But Russ Feingold, normally a standout and stand up guy, voted for it..why?

    Part of the discussion sawed into the old saw (sorry) re Gov funding being a bad choice for artists, as the gatekeepers often give all the $$ to organizations who don't need the money..not the artists. It made me want to do research on the WPA program..because Studs Terkel and Jackson Pollock (for 2) were supported by this..Do you think there was some evil gatekeeper doing the handouts in the 30's? I honestly don't know.

  • I think the arts always have had (and always will have) a strained relationship with governments. Actually, any ruling power, whether that's the church, the king, or democratically elected congress.

    At it's core, Art reflects some sort of truth back at the audience. That tends to really piss off those in authority.

    Also it pisses off people who have insecurities about their own worth i.e. "what, you think you're better than me?"

    It's such a shame watching it go down like this, but I'm not sure there's anything to be done about it in the near term.

    It's not surprising that we have so many people who get defensive about intellectualism. We've got entire generations bombarded with advertising since birth (i.e. "there's something wrong with you, you need to buy this thing to get right"). Combine that with with failing public school systems.

    You get large numbers of marginally educated people, with low self-esteem, fearful of things beyond their immediate grasp.

    Clearly, education is the key.
    Free college for everyone.
    That's what we need to spend money on.

    Get people educated and this tomfoolery will end in a generation or so.

  • Gogmagog

    I was curious as to exactly how many people are employed in the arts in the U.S., and found this site:

    2.2/4.3 percent may sound small, but it's certainly big enough for a fraction of a percent of the stimulus bill.

  • Drop the Bomb!

    Our government is staffed by a bunch of f***ing muppets, how can they shun the arts? I am puzzled as to what jobs all these soopergenius mortgage brokers & investment wizards were actually creating… let alone how they were/are contributing to society.

  • Mark me down as a libertarian (I'm only mentioning this so people don't assume I'm a Republican) fan of the arts that is sad to see artists deciding that the best way to promote art is to beg at the government's table for scraps.

  • I don't think it's about funding per se, but the connotations that come with the the legislation. It's kind of surprising and very scary to me that the arts are being vilified in this way, though I suppose they may be having a similar conversation on a golf blog somewhere.

    More importantly, it's surprising to me to see the entire democratic caucus get rolled so hard core by 2 republican senators. I'm not huge fan of the democrats or republicans, but several months ago the democrats won landslide elections both branches of government that we voted for, but they still have no backbone. It's disgusting.

    I'm sorry to get overly political as I know the isn't a political (or even US) blog. But I think Peter's right and this ties into the running problem that our culture doesn't value art right now. I think that shows up in congressmen vilifying artists, and people pirating music and movies. We need to find a way to change that in our culture.

  • Jon

    To be honest I'm not really angry about bailouts and funding as much as I am the lack of respect. I make my living (and support a family) as an artist. If this isn't a real job and doesn't contribute to society in any way then maybe I should be tax exempt.

  • mode

    the distinction between art and entertainment has always seemed slightly absurd to me. there is plenty of artistry in a great piece of entertainment, and most great art is essentially entertaining (or if you prefer, compelling).

    besides that fact that it's basically incorrect, the distinction leads to this idea that "art" is some sort of elitist, fringe activity with little or no value to most people in mainstream society. hence the current debate.

    because a lot of people would see value in "entertainment" but not "art," tying the two together not only helps sell people on the merits of arts funding, but also correctly frames art in more populist light.

  • yapruder

    Mode writes

    >>the distinction between art and entertainment has always seemed slightly absurd to me.<>the distinction leads to this idea that “art” is some sort of elitist, fringe activity with little or no value to most people in mainstream society<>because a lot of people would see value in “entertainment” but not “art,”<<

    Because of gratification? People blame the apparent inscrutability of art on the artist, but it is really lack of exposure, experience, and education.
    Even the idea that good art is supposed to "knock your socks off," makes the mistake of equating art appreciation with thrill seeking, whereas the vital function of art is more subtle, nuanced and, more importantly, cumulative.

  • yapruder

    My comment came thru broken, trying again:

    Mode writes
    >>the distinction between art and entertainment has always seemed slightly absurd to me.<>the distinction leads to this idea that “art” is some sort of elitist, fringe activity with little or no value to most people in mainstream society<>because a lot of people would see value in “entertainment” but not “art,”<<

    Because of gratification? People blame the apparent inscrutability of art on the artist, but it is really lack of exposure, experience, education.
    Even the idea that good art is supposed to "knock your socks off," makes the mistake of equating art appreciation with thrill seeking, whereas the vital function of art is more subtle, nuanced and, more importantly, cumulative.

  • yapruder

    Sorry comment still not intact, here is the cut portion,

    >>the distinction between art and entertainment has always seemed slightly absurd to me.<>the distinction leads to this idea that “art” is some sort of elitist, fringe activity with little or no value to most people in mainstream society<<

    Exploring the frontiers is of the utmost value, I wonder why that is so difficult to communicate.

  • yapruder

    Mode writes
    >>the distinction between art and entertainment has always seemed slightly absurd to me. <<

    John Cage is not the same as Britney Spears, though he did have a cute smile.

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  • redundant

    we'll give $10 to every other industry, some of which will have no real economic benefit, but we'll make sure to give those arts people 25 cents, because it is such a trivial sum of money for what would equate to building and stocking 1 museum, that people would notice and think it to be the worst thing wrong with the 1,150 page stimulus bill that didn't even get read by congress before it was passed.