Friday, January 30, 2009

Stimulating the Arts in America

There's been a lot of back-and-forth about lately about the proposed stimulus package for our ailing economy. It's also been said that you can judge a country's overall health by how it values the arts. Shouldn't any attempt at economic recover include the people who contribute to American culture?

That's precisely what Americans for the Arts — a 45 year-old nonprofit organization for advancing the arts in the US — is advocating for. In a January 25 article in the New York Times, AFTA president Robert L. Lynch says “the artist’s paycheck is every bit as important as the steelworker’s paycheck or the autoworker’s paycheck.”

Arts groups are urging federal departments like Transportation or Labor to factor culture into their financing. A transportation enhancement program, for example, could pay artists for related public artworks; through the Labor Department displaced arts professionals could receive new training to stay in the work force. “Every one of these places is a vehicle through which the money is going to flow, and we want to make sure the arts is part of it,” Mr. Lynch said.

One of the most pressing concerns for artists — including musicians — is a lack of health insurance. (FMC's Health Insurance Navigation Tool, or HINT is a free service for musicians to learn about their health insurance options.) But the market downturn has had an even more far-reaching effect, including job losses and the erosion of educational opportunities for those looking to hone skills or learn about American culture.

The American Recovery and Reinvestment bill that is currently winding its way through Congress includes $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts to be spread out among nonprofit arts organizations as well as state and municipal institutions. In addition, arts groups like AFTA are hoping to convince various federal agencies like the departments of Transportation and Labor to include culture in their agendas.

But don't call it a government giveaway: “I don’t think of this as a bailout for the arts,” Lynch says. “It’s an economic investment in the arts.” We at FMC think that's money well spent.

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