Bailing out the arts

In an op-ed piece in yesterday’s Washington Post, Michael Kaiser, president of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, called for “an emergency grant for arts organizations in America, and…legislation that allows unusual access to endowments.” “The arts,” he wrote, “have historically received short shrift from our political leaders, who all too often seem happy to offer bland endorsements of our work without backing those words with financial appropriations. But the arts in the United States provide 5.7 million jobs and account for $166 billion in economic activity annually. This sector is at serious risk. Because the arts are so fragmented, no single organization’s demise threatens the greater economy and claims headlines. But thousands of organizations, and the state of America’s arts ecology, are in danger.”

Kaiser is definitely on to something here, but let’s face it: George W. Bush has never shown one scintilla of interest in the arts during the entire time he’s been in office, and there’s absolutely no reason to believe that this is going to change in the next three weeks. Will things be any different after January 20th? Hard to say. President Obama–can we please just start calling him that NOW?–has laid out a series of arts-related policies such as reinvesting in arts education, expanding public/private partnerships between schools and arts organizations, and increasing funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Any one of these would be good first steps toward rectifying the current dire situation. I’m cautiously optimistic that he’ll be able to follow through on at least some of his proposals, but he’s going to have to put forth a compelling argument for them, especially since a large segment of the American public has bought into the notion that the arts are costly and irrelevant.

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