Thursday, January 27, 2011

Déjà Vu

This is not déjà vu.  During the culture wars of the ‘80s, bashing art and artists became political sport.   Wikipedia describes the state of things: “Members of the religious right often criticized academics and artists, and their works, in a fight against what they considered indecent, subversive, and blasphemous. They often accused their political opponents of undermining tradition, Western civilization, and family values.”

What is beginning today is a much more fundamental question and provides the opportunity for civil discourse about what are essential services of government as prompted by the economic crisis.  I’d rather have this conversation than to defend myself as a good person doing good work as we had to in the ‘80s.  Why, I knew many artists who went to church and prayed to the same God as Jesse Helms.

Yes, Virginia, there are boogey men who are suggestion complete elimination of the NEA, NEH, and public radio and TV.  And in North Carolina, rumors are flying that the General Assembly is considering appointing a committee to consider elimination of all grant funding to all non-profit organizations.  If an undertow picks you up and you panic, you stand a much greater chance of drowning.  Swim parallel to the shore and you just might work your way out of the great downward sucking motion.  Urgency, friends, not panic. 

Mitch McConnell has proposed that when President Obama uses the word “investment,” he really means spending more money.  Oops, there went a good message… invest in the arts.

But as the LA Times Points out in their Culture Monster blog article, federal support pays for itself 18 times over.  That’s sounding a little like investment rhetoric, so let’s try the following message:

The arts contract with government to provide the following essential services:
  • Create jobs
  • Improve public education (might just save a life or two along the way)
  • Provide a high standard quality of life, essential  for attracting new and existing businesses
  • Enliven the “vibe” of cities who want to attract a young, skilled workforce
  • Train workers for 21st century jobs
  • Attract tourists (NC’s number 2 industry)
And, oh, by the way, did we mention that we will provide these essential services AND we will go find an additional $18 per $1 of your contract fee through private sources and earned revenue?  Mr. Committee member, stop and think for one moment about eliminating funding for one of our nation’s most thriving small business enterprises.  In case you missed the statistics, North Carolina’s creative industry provides $40 billion in goods and services.  Keith Crisco, NC Secretary of Commerce, compares that to North Carolina’s number one industry, agriculture, which is responsible for $70 billion in goods and services.  And how about those 300,000 creative sector jobs in North Carolina, 5.4 % of our workforce?

We can do one of two things.  We can roll over and stick our heads under the covers of “this will never happen” as we watch the dismantling of the non-profit arts sector, or we can enter the debate in wholesale numbers.  ARTS North Carolina needs you to leave the sidelines if you aren’t already in the game, and bring lots of your friends with you.  We must get ready quickly, very quickly, and be proactive in proposing the role of arts as an essential government service. 

Join ARTS North Carolina if you are not currently a member.  You need us more than ever, and we need your financial support.

Join our list serv.  Oops, if you are reading this, you are probably on our list serv, so do MORE.
Contact your local arts council and ask if they are forming a delegation to come to ARTS Day on April 12.  If not, make your own plans.

Write your legislator and begin or grow a relationship.  Schedule a visit when they are home and talk about your concerns.



  1. Do we really have a threat, or is the writher simply anticipating one? President Obama supports the arts. It is my understanding that our NC government is now open to public suggestions of ways to improve State management and balance the budget. This invoking of old demons will help nothing. Progress occurs from positive actions, not negative! If you like how things are, praise the system that enables them, don't berate it for problems that came and went long ago! That will only empower those who may be opposed to supporting the arts. Don't ask for a witch hunt if you don't want one!

  2. It is most certainly a threat..have you been listening to some of the congressman calling for the elimination of the NEA..some of the same congressmen are also deemed as some of the most influential in this new congress although seen as extreme in their views by many people in this nation? Congressman Rand Paul is one of them, and he certainly has an influence. Plus, positive actions includes calling out what is unjust and, this article is very needed and necessary.

    The possibility is very real, and the congressmen who are for going against the arts mean exactly what they say. There is a history of this kind of sentiment against the arts, but "now" we see congressman who are actually willing to dismantle if given the slightest chance..and as we have seen with healthcare and the fight that went on last year..if there is an opportunity certain congress members will repeal, cancel, and prevent with no reservation. Didn't we learn anything from the last two years on how far we have seen certain congressman will go to the point of misleading and blatant scare tactics? These are not provoking old demons..this is a very current issue.

    So yes, we need to strongly support the arts and understand that artists can be just as good of a Christian as some of the congressmen who are totally against organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts. This is no witch hunt.

  3. Thank you for your vigilance. As a poet, I often feel like an evil, immoral person for wanting to read and write! Is it that we are truly a country without resources, and impoverished, or is there some moral force here at work? Or a psychological one, that others don't want artists to be successful because that means they could have been artists themselves, a desire to show how being an artist is not an option, no way to survive? Hard work, perseverance, patience,
    all the all-american ideals are embodied in an artist's aspiration. Artists are indeed ripe fruit for political exploitation, for another's financial aspirations, the pot calling the kettle black!

  4. While I see the need for arts advocacy, it still seems like a chip on the shoulder. Problems waiting to happen only happen if empowered.

    Rand Paul is an idiot - a Jesse wannabe! His bill will never fly, cutting into the food stamps program AND killing the NEA!?!

    This blog is simply adding attention and energy to the problem. If there really is a problem (still not convinced), why don't we do what artists do best - create (read on).

    If the past is to be so authoritatively recalled (wikipedia?!?), let's look at what went wrong in the 80's. Jesse became a big deal when he made an example out of Robert Mapplethorpe's "Piss Christ". Mapplethorpe made MILLIONS from it. Jesse sold MILLIONS of newspapers. The NEA is still around.

    IF Paul's bill gains favor, then I agree action should be taken. Blogging about it is not enough. Writing our representatives is a start. Making statements with our art is good. We need something with a little more bite. If Paul's motives are to make good on a campaign promise to the people of Kentucky, perhaps a nationwide smear campaign on those who supported him would work. Attacking him would only add to his press power. If in the 80's the US arts community united in a smear against the NC constituents, corporations and organizations behind Jesse Helms things might have been different. Instead, artists made fun of Jesse, adding to his 15 minutes of fame. Perhaps if a boycott had been enacted targeting businesses that supported Helms, he might have changed his stand on the arts. MONEY TALKS!

    If there is a threat, target those who support the threat. Remove the support and you remove the threat.

    Let's work this out. Brainstorm. Blog for the sake of creating a solution and make a real difference if you really care about this!

  5. Certainly school funding in this state and many others is threatened and we have been warned of the "cliff" we face in the coming year. NC already ranks in bottom 10 states in terms of spending per pupil. School officials face very incredibly issues. To be concerned about possible cuts in arts education, and to be prepared to present research and anecdotal findings of the benefits, only seems prudent.

  6. sorry…"incredibly difficult issues."


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