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.