The NEA, and why it Matters

by Delia McDevitt

The arts affect everyone. No matter your color, creed, or personal interests, the arts have an impact on everyone in some way. If a person enjoys watching movies, they are participating in the arts. If a person purchases music, they are supporting the arts. Art is all around us, and the arts have a protector. The NEA, or National Endowment for the Arts, is the federal organization that provides support and funding for the arts in every congressional district of the United States. In 1965, congress created this agency to inspire creativity, increase appreciation of culture, and uphold tradition of the arts. The NEA supports music, museums, dance, theater, literature, research, and many other artistic endeavors. The agency’s funding of the arts is of the utmost importance; the arts boost self-esteem, cultural awareness, and allow people to express their emotions in a healthy way.

However, this essential program is under attack. The new presidential administration is trying to eliminate federal funding of the NEA, as well as the NEH (National Endowment for Humanities), and plan to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Trump’s team has been considering deep budget cuts to the NEA for a while now, and supporters of the arts are using their talents and abilities to protest such a drastic adjustment. Those whose lives center around the arts - and some allies - believe that a major reduction of funding would be detrimental to the lives of many Americans.

In an article by The Heritage Foundation, author Stuart Butler labels the NEA as “welfare for artists.” He claims that the NEA is unnecessary, and the program regularly funds art that is “offensive” to many Americans. Butler, and others with similar views, believe that the NEA is a waste of federal dollars. Such people think that this program actually hinders people’s ability to make good art, and that federal money should be going elsewhere. For example, many people who believe the NEA should be defunded want the money to go to the military.

However, if the NEA is defunded, the arts will have no protector. Many Americans depend on this agency to provide funding for their passion. In an article by the NEA, a staff member describes the importance of the organization’s work in one simple, yet profound sentence: “The arts matter because they help us to understand how we matter.”

Slashing funds for the NEA would leave support for the arts in the hands of the wealthy. The NEA distributes money to the states, which then distribute money to colleges, museums, theaters, and other community programs. However, if grants were withdrawn, funding for the arts is left to only the people who can afford to do so. For example, the wealthiest man in town may enjoy strolling through an art museum and admiring the pieces, but may dislike theater. Therefore, he would give lots of money to the museum, and the theater would be left to survive on scraps of miniscule donations. If the theater cannot survive on miniscule donations, it is then forced to either shut down or operate with little necessary props and equipment.

Furthermore, the arts boost the economy. According to a statistic from the NEA, in 2013, the arts contributed $704.2 billion to the United States economy. That number was 4.2% of the gross domestic product (GDP) for that year. Creative jobs play an important role in our country. In fact, 4.7 million people hold jobs in the cultural and arts sector. If the NEA was defunded, such projects may slow or cease and jobs would be lost due to lack of funding, resulting in a decrease of money going into the economy.

Some may think defunding the NEA would have no impact on our community, but this is not true. The NEA gives grant money to the Tennessee Arts Commission. The Tennessee Arts Commission has given money to local schools and programs, in order to increase art and culture in Henry County. Beneficiaries include the Downtown Paris Association, Paris Henry County Arts, and Paris Special School District. NEA grants do not go directly to certain projects, but works by trickling down from federal, to state, and finally to local. Without the National Endowment for the arts, our community would be lacking in culture and creativity.

Supporting the arts is important. The NEA is important. The arts help us understand and deal with the problems facing our world today. Everything we do is expressed through art. We can not allow this new administration to take away our country’s voice - to silence us. Supporting the arts is important. Support the NEA.