Funding the arts is good for the nation

On the 50th anniversary of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), it is time to correct a long-standing misconception that has infected the political debate on funding for the arts: that it is a waste of taxpayer money. In reality, the arts are a powerful economic engine that provide a return on investment for taxpayers rarely seen in other industries.

The non-profit arts industry alone generates $135.2 billion in economic activity and supports 4.13 million full-time jobs. For every one dollar the United States spends on federal arts initiatives, nine non-federal dollars are leveraged, generating roughly $600 million in matching support. Last year’s federal arts appropriation was $146 million, but the industry returned $9.59 billion to the federal government in income taxes. America’s arts and entertainment are also leading exports with estimates of more than $30 billion annually in overseas sales. That return is staggering and it deserves credit and attention.


The economic power of the arts should be reason enough for Congress to increase funding for the arts, but there’s more.

Students with an education rich in the arts show lower dropout rates and higher test scores. Data from The College Board show that students with four years of arts education score about 100 points higher on the SAT. Students at Voice Charter School in Queens, N.Y., a school that mandates a rigorous focus on the musical arts, beat New York City averages on math and English exams, and this performance is attributed largely to the arts.

It matters for careers too. Reports by the Conference Board show that creativity is among the top five applied skills sought by business leaders. The well-known physiologist, Dr. Robert Root-Bernstein, notes that Nobel laureates are "twenty-five times as likely as the average scientist to sing, dance, or act; seventeen times as likely to be a visual artist; twelve times more likely to write poetry and literature; eight times more likely to do woodworking or some other craft; four times as likely to be a musician; and twice as likely to be a photographer.”

The arts also provide social benefits that we can only begin to measure. Studies link a high concentration of the arts in a city to higher civic engagement, more social cohesion, higher child welfare, lower crime and lower poverty rates.

What’s more, arts therapy has been used for healing with veterans suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Not only does this help our returning heroes recover, it helps their caregivers too.

“While I will never understand what they have been through completely, each piece of artwork inches us closer to their truth,” Melissa Walker, who administers therapy to soldiers at Walter Reed Hospital, told the Post in 2013.

The transformative power of the arts is clear. What we need is a more significant federal investment.

As co-chairs of the long-standing and bipartisan Congressional Arts Caucus in the U.S. House of Representatives, we are proud to welcome the more than 500 arts advocates who have travelled across the country to Washington, D.C. to make this case to their members of Congress.

This Arts Advocacy Day, held during the National Arts Action Summit, was organized by Americans for the Arts along with 85 national organizations working on behalf of the arts in America. The day brings together arts from every discipline, including dance, theater, graphic arts, arts education, music, visual arts, media arts, opera, design, as well as the Very Special Arts program (VSA) through the Kennedy Center that works to provide education programs for individuals with disabilities, and many more. The group’s message is simple: every American should be able to have access to the arts.

This strong, unified coalition has been instrumental in helping advance key legislative initiatives over the years, including expanding support for the federal cultural agencies (like the NEA), demonstrating the local impact of charitable giving tax provisions (like the charitable tax deduction) and delivering direct information about the consequences of considered elementary and secondary educational policies (like consolidating the Arts in Education program). Congress would be wise to listen to the stories these advocates tell.

The NEA awards grants to every single Congressional district. According to its annual report, in 2014 the NEA granted $116.1 million in appropriated funds through 2,276 grants in over 425 Congressional districts across the country. Over 38 million Americans, including seven million children, were able to attend arts events funded by the NEA. These events included approximately 70,000 concerts, readings, and performances and 1,600 exhibitions.

The arts tell us who we are, where we have been, and where we are going. It is time for Congress to treat the arts as they deserve to be treated: as a dynamic economic, educational and cultural force that reach every community in the nation.

Lance has represented New Jersey’s 7th Congressional District since 2009. He sits on the Energy and Commerce Committee. Slaughter has represented northern New York State congressional districts since 1987. She sits on the Rules Committee. The two are co-chairs of the Congressional Arts Caucus.