Why We Can’t Let An “America First” Budget Put The Arts Last

The great playwright George Bernard Shaw once said that, “Without art, the crudeness of reality would make the world unbearable.”

It appears that President Trump is setting out to create just such an “unbearable world.” In his “America First” budget proposal, he is relegating the arts to the last place position by completely eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

In doing so, the President is declaring that the arts are not a priority in this country, but nothing could be further from the truth. I wish that this was just “fake news.”

According to the NEA, for example, the organization “funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation.” The NEA’s budget of $148 million makes up a mere 0.013 percent of federal discretionary spending. Because of the requirement to match funds, the NEA creates the kind of support the President would like to see. Every dollar of direct federal funding leverages up to $9 in private and alternate public funds.

Leveraging public funds from the NEA is critically important for all recipient organizations. It not only gives a financial boost; it also speaks to the impeccable quality review process that is central to the grants assessment process. And arts organizations need the money; we need the “quality stamp,” and we need to be in a country that acknowledges the importance of the arts in everyone’s life, for children in school, for adults who seek relief from formidable work schedules, for the preservation of our heritage, and much more.

As it relates to children, the arts have been overlooked and treated as an afterthought for far too long already. We see this especially in arts education. For decades, students have missed out on the beneficial effects the arts can have on learning. In 2009, the Center for Arts Education published a report that showed schools with the lowest access to arts education and resources also had the highest dropout rates, whereas those with the highest graduation rates had the most access to arts programs. Many other studies report sustained arts education can be an essential part of social and intellectual development. Practicing music, for instance, has been shown to positively impact everything from cognitive skills to focus and IQ. At Kaufman Music Center, the institution I head, we believe the arts are one of our nation’s most precious gems, with the power to help foster a more well-rounded, compassionate, creative and innovative generation of young learners.

And there are vast amounts of peer-reviewed research that clearly show that music and art have a profoundly positive impact on student academic achievement. In fact, at our Special Music School (P.S. 859), the only K-12 public school in New York City with music as a core curriculum subject, students routinely score among the highest in the entire state on math and reading proficiency tests; last year our students earned the highest scores in the city. This shows exactly why the funding for the arts should not be cut. With a group of students eager to learn and include the arts in their daily studies, we rely heavily on monetary support from both public and private sectors.

As a moat is being built around this country, we need to make sure that essential components of our culture are as secure as everything else before we pull up the bridge.

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