The arts are worthy of greater federal support

The arts are worthy of greater federal support
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In the crushing stranglehold of the Great Depression, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt created a federal program — The Federal Arts Program — to fund the arts as part of the New Deal in his visionary bid to resuscitate the country. The American dream, FDR explained, “was the promise not only of economic and social justice but also of cultural enrichment.”

Today, as our nation faces economic peril at the hands of the coronavirus, the arts will once again play a vital part in breathing oxygen back into America’s lifeblood. But we must demand that lawmakers recognize the essential role the arts play in our economy, culture and collective future.

The arts account for hundreds of billions of dollars in our economy. Recent data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) shows that the arts and culture sector added $877.8 billion — 4.5 percent — to the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2017, with more than five million workers earning a total of $405 billion. 

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Hollywood productions, our nation’s largest cultural export, peaked at the box office in 2019, soaring to $42.5 billion globally. Netflix alone took in $20.2 billion. Not to mention the staggering revenue streams of broadcast and cable television, the music industry, Broadway, publishing and the myriad other art institutions and independent artists contributing to society. 

According to data from BEA and NEA, the economy also enjoyed a contribution from the arts five times than that of the agricultural sector. It also contributed more to our economy than construction, transportation and warehousing

The arts are as indispensable to the economy as any big bank, hotel conglomerate or airline and should be regarded with the same value.

Protecting the arts is not just an economic imperative, it is a cultural one, too. 

The arts are the language of our nation’s identity. Protecting that identity is paramount to the prosperity of the nation, both economically and spiritually and Congress must make it a priority.

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There is a reason that during our shared quarantine we see people hanging out of windows joining together in song, musicians taking to social media to provide live concerts and celebrities sitting bedside for story time with children they will never meet. We crave the arts. While stuck in our homes — isolated from movie theaters, stages, concert halls, galleries and museums — we are left starving to see our own cultural reflection. A void only the arts can fill.

As coronavirus rips through our communities, economy and way of life, the power of the arts to provide strength, hope and healing has never been more apparent. People around the world are turning to movies, music, TV and books in search of soul-enriching nourishment and solace — right from their living rooms. Without such respite, the painful isolation prescribed to combat the virus would be too much to bear.

Just as in the wake of the Great Depression, the power of the arts to also help revitalize our economy is a tried-and-true remedy that lawmakers must take into account when drafting the next blueprints for national economic revival. 

Federally funded arts programs, such as the NEA, must be strengthened for the sake of our economic and creative well-being, not gutted as the Trump administration has proposed. A failure to protect and bolster such federal programs would imperil not just our economy but also our very ability to define what it means to be an American.

While it may be true that an end to the arts would not kill us quickly, it would surely kill us slowly.

Robin Bronk is the CEO of The Creative Coalition, the nation’s leading arts advocacy nonprofit. Tim Daly serves as the organization’s president.