The nation which disdains the mission of art invites the fate of Robert Frost’s hired man: the fate of having nothing to look backward with pride and nothing to look forward to with hope. -President John F. Kennedy, 1963.
Writers are imprisoned, films are censored, songs are banned, and books are burned for one reason: oppressors understand the power of the arts. We can appreciate the power of art in the remains of fallen civilizations, which tend to uncover at least one form of art including literature, writing, paintings and architecture. Revolutions and civil rights movements have walked hand in hand with songs, with poems of freedom and justice, and with books that told the stories of those whose voices were silenced. Art is an equalizer of humanity and an expression of the universal truth that unites us all. It has the potential to heal, to forge friendships, and to uplift communities.
Lyndon B. Johnson understood the importance of the arts when he signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, as has nearly every president who has continued to fund programs designed to foster the arts in communities across the country.
Donald Trump doesn’t think like President Johnson or like any of his predecessors. His proposed budget clearly shows that he doesn’t believe that the arts are a valuable asset to our society. It’s a pesky burden to our inflated deficit. If approved by Congress, the proposal would eliminate the National Endowment of the Art’s $148 million budget and the National Endowment for Humanities’ $148 million budget. It will also implement sizable cuts to the Institute of Museum and Library Services and to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Arts and humanities programs and organizations across the nation, especially in small towns and rural areas, will lose access to grants and resources.
In Trump’s simplistic mind, music festivals in rural towns, writing workshops in underserved communities, projects that offer music programs for inner-city schools, and healing arts programs for veterans are a waste of federal funds. He would rather beef up our gargantuan military force and construct a useless wall between the United States and Mexico than continue funding agencies that have helped cultivate generations of writers, painters, musicians, dancers, poets and above all, thinkers.
The arts are a historically significant space where the Latino community has flourished, contributing our talent and creativity to our nation’s cultural landscape. Before we harnessed our power in the economic and political sectors, we claimed our place in the arts sector and created music, art, literature and poetry that humanized our struggles and our triumphs.
Our poetry, songs, and literature went unheard for too long."
Diego Rivera and Frida Khalo dazzled New York City socialites, including the Rockefellers, with his visceral murals long before the Chicano movement. Writers such as Sandra Cisneros and Julia Alvarez, both National Endowment for the Arts fellows, captivated classrooms and readers’ imaginations across the nation before we were considered a force in the ballot polls. Singers like Hector Lavoe and Willie Colón rose in Spanish Harlem to gain worldwide fame decades before the Latin Grammys and before Latino recording artists shattered attendance records in Madison Square Garden and in sports arenas across the country. We rose as a cultural force that continues to strengthen with each new generation.
The arts are also a priceless creative force that Latinos and other communities of color have harnessed for decades to resist against those who tried to silence our fight for equality. Our poetry, songs, and literature went unheard for too long.
Now that we own our success in the arts and continue to foster our new generations of artists, there is an attempt to take it away from us. Gutting agencies that promote and fund the arts, especially in underserved communities that rely on public programs to help create and appreciate art, is an act of oppression. It’s a signal of fear of the imagination, of the power of the arts to transform a person and an entire community with its beauty and message. During these challenging times, we cannot afford to lose even one single platform for our voice. We have to fight to keep the resources that help our young generations become the cultural leaders of tomorrow.
If you have been thinking of opportunities to join the resistance, defending the arts means you will be taking a powerful stance that will impact your community. There are two things you can do to resist. One is to contact your member of Congress and urge them to vote against Trump’s budget, which in addition to the arts, cuts many more programs that help the poor, the elderly and communities of color. Call or write your representatives, attend town halls, voice your opinion, and march in their districts; do whatever it takes except think that someone else will do it for you.
The second thing you can do is create. Write a short story, a poem, or a song. Invent new choreography to interpret your dreams and nightmares, or become a best-selling novelist and first Latina to win the Pulitzer prize.
Our talent and creativity terrify people like Trump and Steve Bannon, but it will be what saves us from the oppressors. They’ll fight our ingenuity with their austerity. They’ll subvert our voice with their insults. They’ll censor our thoughts with their alternative facts. In the end, the art that we create will survive their hate because it is born out of love. So, come writers and painters and dancers and poets. The time has come to fight for the arts, and this time you have the power.