We had a surprisingly intelligent discussion about the arts here last week (sorry, Ted End: we lost you), started off by an innocuous toss-off line about Abraham Lincoln:
Lincoln was killed by an actor while watching a play. Ever since, the Republican party has been hostile to the arts, repeatedly attempting to kill appropriations for the National Endowment for the Arts. (They’re at it again right now, as you read this: there’s a $50 million allocation at stake.)
By the end of the week, those 50 million iron men were back in the bill, but only after the Senate backed off an amendment authored by Ron Coburn, an Okie ‘Pub, ruling out stimulus money for museums, arts centers, and theaters. (Confirming his Village Idiot credentials, he also included golf courses and casinos. All the same to him, hee-yuk). The “Statement of Purpose” of the amendment was “To ensure that taxpayer money is not lost on wasteful and non-stimulative projects.” It passed 73 – 24, with every ‘Pub in the Senate voted in its favor. Lincoln’s assassination avenged.
Smarter, more informed Senators shit-canned this craptacular statement and amendment in the final round. Armed with statistics, arts advocates demonstrated that the arts are in fact engines of economic development, providing jobs to unemployed workers while also encouraging other spending and tourism. Rep. Louise Slaughter, the NY Dem who co-chairs the Congressional Arts Caucus, noted “We had the facts on our side.”
Aaah. Facts. When it comes to matters like this, ‘Pubs resent facts, and prefer to whip up their base with equal parts of sanctimony and feigned outrage. Arts workers — that’s a larger class then “artists” — are suffering about a 12.5% unemployment rate, which means they’re losing their savings, cars, health care, and houses the same as laid-off construction workers and middle managers. When the arts shrivel, the industries and businesses that support and prosper with them shrink as well — restaurants, motels, laundries, schools, arts & crafts suppliers, retail, etc.
AmericansForTheArts.org claims that 5.7 million people are employed in the arts; that the arts occupy a $166 billion chunk of our economy; that the arts generate almost $30 billion in taxes.
But that’s not the way most ‘Pubs see it at all. Last week’s most prominent Neanderthal was Rep Jack Kingston, a GA ‘Pub, who told the Congressional Quarterly, “I just think putting people to work is more important than putting more art on the wall of some New York City gallery frequented by the elite art community.” Like that? Buzzwords: The “elite art community.” He described arts as “the favorite of the left.” Yeah, not to mention their record of assassinating ‘Pub presidents.
Amusingly, it was pointed out that in Kingston’s own district there are 778 arts-related businesses employing 2,663 people. However, they’re all dangerous moonbats whose idea of culture is painting pictures that denigrate Christian values, music that extols drug usage, and films that encourage kids to graffiti schoolyard walls.
Politics aside — or perhaps it’s psychology: what is it about the arts that makes Wingnut Nation so nervous? — what sorts of things get counted as art when Federal money is mixed into the equation? Or should we ignore that element, and concentrate on what counts as art simpliciter? Why are certain subjects off-limits? Why do some wingnuts scream like stuck weenies about liberals’ stifling free expression with “political correctness,” but lather up in defense of censorship when it comes to the arts?
It’s art. Is all.