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Our view: Keep funding arts across the USA

February 24, 2017 GMT

As happened before in the United States — and will happen again — conservatives are out to gut the national budget of such “frills” as arts, public television and those dollars dedicated to culture. Because, goodness knows, liberals love cultural spending.

Zeroed out in President Donald Trump’s proposed budget are dollars for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities. It’s all in the name of cutting the budget, even though eliminating such programs would do almost nothing to reduce federal spending. As The New York Times points out, such programs account for “less than one-tenth of 1 percent of annual federal spending.”

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Even so, these programs matter across the country. Arts dollars should not be looked at as frivolous spending, but rather as economic development money. Federal grants that fund new plays, support arts education or supplement symphony dollars help keep afloat arts organizations across the country. Those dollars fund nonprofits, which in turn hire staffers, rent buildings and pay bills. They create jobs. What’s more, life is better in a town where live music is available or where children can enjoy poetry taught by actual poets.

Santa Fe, more than most cities, understands the importance of a creative economy in building its financial well-being. There are private investors in the arts, of course. There are gallery owners, donors, collectors, artists and all the diverse people who come together to support a vibrant arts community. But as a city and region, we have decided to support government funding for public arts projects as well. The city’s markets — Folk Art, Spanish and Indian — receive civic support, backing that returns millions in tax revenues. The city gave $50,000 to help Meow Wolf Art Collective realize its dream — that has been repaid in tax dollars and millions in free publicity in just a year.

National Endowment for the Arts dollars also spark development. In 2015 alone, the NEA awarded $1.5 million in grants to projects in New Mexico, with some $24.8 million given from 1995-2015. That’s a big impact, especially in a small state like New Mexico. With the NEA’s requirement that grant dollars be matched, from 2013-15, matching funds for NEA grants brought in some $22 million in additional support. All of that is at risk, as are similar grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Public television is at risk, too.

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Arts supporters will go to Washington, D.C., on March 20 for an advocacy day put together by Americans for the Arts. By then, the budget may be changed. Public television might no longer be under the gun, and federal funding for the NEA or the National Endowment for the Humanities could be back in the budget. Cutting these dollars would make almost no difference to the federal budget — the United States simply does not spend enough on the arts to move the needle.

What’s more, a president who is suggesting the U.S. build a $25 billion border wall — which we don’t need and can’t afford — isn’t really serious about a fiscally prudent budget. At a town hall meeting this week, 7-year-old Toby made the point beautifully. He stood up and told U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton of Arkansas that President Trump “is deleting all the parks and PBS Kids just to make a wall … and he shouldn’t do that. He shouldn’t do all that stuff just for the wall.”

No, he shouldn’t. Spending on arts creates beauty, but it also creates jobs. Public television delivers solid programming, especially in news reporting and in shows directed at kids that make them smarter, not dumber. They are worthy of federal dollars.

Just as when President Ronald Reagan tried to slash funding for the arts, Americans today will have to stand up. Our towns and cities are richer because there is literature, music, dance and visual arts. Some of that is funded by the government. And that’s as it should be.

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