Saturday, February 28, 2009

Follow-Up: Recession and the Arts

NEW YORK, New York -- A few weeks ago, we wrote about the parlous state of the arts during the recession and explored the idea of government intervening to aid foundering arts groups.

At the time, $50M in the stimulus bill that was targeted to the arts was under fire from congressional Republicans who see the arts as part of the Democratic Party's "permanent agenda" and not a jobs engine worthy of government stimulus money.

Although this is old news now, the $50M -- or 1/16,000th of the stimulus bill -- was saved by Representative Louise Slaughter of New York and others, increasing the endowment of the National Endowment for the Arts by 33%.

A number of people, including at Bloomberg, were shocked that such a small amount of the stimulus bill could be singled out by Republicans led by Oklahoma Senator James Coburn as examples of "waste" or "pork" to justify killing the entire economic-rescue plan. In the end, a group of congresspeople galvanized in part by Robert Redford helped keep the $50M, as the New York Times reported.

As before, the arts seem to be walking on a razor's edge between becoming an "anti-American" punching bag for many on the right and gaining newfound broader acceptance thanks to the mainstreaming effect the Obama family's patronage of the arts may provide. In the end, nobody can really say if classical music or painting will be nearly forgotten in 20 years or enjoying a new renaissance, or how much of an influence government involvement may even have (NPR recently took up some of these questions here). And this episode may well be just another example of how arbitrary the approaches society takes on a "macro" level toward centrally important issues can be.

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