The Recovery and Reinvestment Act will help the arts, but more is still needed

leaders should recognise the essential contribution of the arts to the economy

In its entirety the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act is a monumental piece of legislation. It also marks a new level of federal support for the arts and arts workers. Local, state, and national arts advocates successfully rallied together to restore recovery funds in the bill that will help save thousands of arts workers from losing their jobs. The economic stimulus bill passed by Congress reflects a fuller understanding of the importance of the arts to our economic recovery and future. It includes eight initiatives that will enhance the role of the arts in achieving national economic recovery:

• $50m in additional appropriations for the National Endowment for the Arts;

• $130m for the US Department of Agriculture for rural community facilities, including cultural facilities;

• $160m for the Corporation for National and Community Service where an innovative “Artists Corps” could be initiated;

• $150m for the Department of Commerce’s Economic Development Administration, which could support grants to enhance cultural district planning and the creative economy;

• A portion of the $589m in funding for the National Park Service to preserve, repair and rehabilitate will support workers in the trades and with skills in the arts;

• $1bn for federal Community Development Block Grants, which provide “bricks and mortar” funding for state and local projects including some in the arts;

• $3.9bn for the Labour Department’s worker training and employment services, including the creative sector;

• Extending access to unemployment insurance and healthcare benefits, which are important to artists in non-traditional careers.

There were, however, a number of challenges that arose along the way to the final legislation. During Congressional debate, political conservatives and pundits mocked the House of Representative’s proposed $50m job recovery investment for the non-profit arts sector as having nothing to do with the economy. And before passing its version of the economic stimulus package in early February, the Senate approved an amendment that reflected a fundamental confusion of the role of the arts in the US. That amendment, accepted by a vote of 74-23, stipulated that none of the funding could be used for a list of projects including any museum, theatre, or art centre. These attacks were unsubstantiated by facts and arrogantly dismissed the legitimate employment sector of the arts and culture industry. Eighty five thousand communications were sent by advocates to the US Congress, the offending language was removed and the $50m for the arts restored.

Musicians, dancers, painters, actors, and arts administrators pay taxes, rent, and doctor bills just like any other workers. Non-profit arts organisations and their audiences generate annually $166.2bn in US economic activity, support 5.7m jobs, and provide nearly $30bn in government revenue.

Last year’s Ready to Innovate report issued by the Conference Board, which serves the largest US businesses, states that “it is clear that the arts—music, creative writing, drawing, dance—provide skills sought by employers of the third millennium.” The US Conference of Mayors recommended investment in the arts in its 10-Point Plan for a Strong America, stating that “governments which support the arts on average see a return on investment of $7 in taxes for every $1 that the government appropriates.”

Spending by non-profit arts and culture organisations provides employment not only for artists, curators, designers, musicians, and the like, but for builders, plumbers, accountants, printers, and an array of occupations that make the arts a viable industry. In fact, when you look at a ratio from Americans for the Arts’ most recent national economic impact study, the total combined effect of every $1bn in spending by non-profit arts and culture organisations—and their audiences—results in almost 70,000 full-time equivalent jobs.

The non-profit arts and culture industry is an economic driver. The arts provide a variety of public goods that make sense for public investment because they create access to—and facilitate participation in—the life of communities across the land.

The arts are not only integral to our economy but also to our lives. Most citizens throughout America appreciate the arts for their intrinsic values—their beauty, vision, and inspiration; their ability to open new horizons and sharpen and challenge our thinking. But the arts are part of this nation’s economy and they need federal assistance to help prevent further job losses and reduction of cultural programming to the communities they serve.

President Barack Obama has said he wants “to use the bully pulpit…to promote the importance of arts and arts education in America” because “the arts help to promote the economic development of countless communities.” As the legislative agenda continues beyond the stimulus bill, leaders in Washington, DC—both Democrat and Republican—should continue to recognise and firmly support the essential contribution of the arts to the growth of our economy. The arts are not a frill. Rather, they provide cultural and economic benefits and real jobs for real people. The arts are fundamental to putting Americans back to work.

The writer is president and Chief Executive Officer of Americans for the Arts

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