Dear President Trump: Please support the arts.
“Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves and to others the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”
–Lyndon Johnson, on signing into existence the National Endowment for the Arts
Dear President Trump,
Like many arts enthusiasts, I am deeply concerned by the news of possible elimination of funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities, and privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Before you move forward with this consideration, I ask that you take a few minutes to consider this plea.
This past weekend, I attended a small town community theatre presentation of the Broadway hit, Avenue Q. Surrounded by an audience of 200 or so, I was captivated by the actors, watching them bring puppets to life right before our eyes. It was concurrently irreverent and immensely entertaining. During that time, there were no political parties or beliefs, no differences of opinions or dissension. We were simply arts patrons coming together to enjoy the talented cast and crew comprised of our neighbors, co-workers, family and friends. And it was great.
In those two hours, we were united in much-needed laughter and love of the arts.
Over the past year, we have witnessed a nation divided by politics and agendas. We have seen families at odds and friendships destroyed. And it’s heartbreaking.
Sitting in that theater, I couldn’t help but reflect on the cathartic power of the arts. That evening reminded me of another time our community turned to the arts for healing.
In 2005, our city was decimated by Hurricane Katrina, with 95 percent of our homes damaged or destroyed, and 40 percent of the city submerged. As was the case for the many devastated communities surrounding ours, the destruction seemed insurmountable.
It was during our darkest hours that the arts gave us hope.
If you look back at the footage of New Orleans following Katrina, you will see that amidst the despair, there was music, made by whatever means possible. Our people turned garbage can lids into drums and created beats with their voices. And they sang from the depths of their souls. The worst natural disaster in our nation’s history took so many lives and destroyed our homes. But it could not kill our music.
Arts hold the power. To heal. To revitalize. To transform dying communities into cultural hubs of activity.
Arts serve as an economic engine, via the many jobs provided and businesses supported. The cultural industry remains one of the nation’s largest.
Arts document history. We have learned so much about civilizations preceding ours through visual arts, music and literature. The earliest known works of art are cave paintings dating back tens of thousands of years.
Let the magnitude of that information sink in for a moment—even the most primitive of cultures understood the critical role of the arts.
In the same way, it is the works of today’s creative professionals that are documenting these moments in time for future generations.
It has not gone unnoticed the extent to which arts were incorporated into the most recent of our country’s historic events, the inauguration which made official your role as the 45th President of the United States.
Last week, millions of people from around the world watched as you took the oath of office. We enjoyed the musical performances prior to such, and those of the many more musicians in the parades that followed.
In the U.S. Capitol Building’s National Statuary Hall, artist George Caleb Bingham’s “Verdict of the People,” on loan from the St. Louis Art Museum, was the painting selected to display during the inaugural events. That this image captured an 1850s scene recording cultural tensions in American democracy is further evidence of the timeless role art plays in documenting history.
During the Inaugural Luncheon, etched Lenox bowls designed by Timothy Carder and created by glass master Peter O’Rourque were presented as gifts to our country’s new leaders from the American people. Even the guests were gifted with the work of artists: notecards featuring original pencil drawings of the United States Capitol, the White House and the Supreme Court of the United States, designed by St. Louis, Missouri artist L. Edward Fisher; pens and letter openers handcrafted from Missouri walnut by Jon and Debbie Ortmann of Ortmann Woodcraft; and handmade desk plates created by Annieglass of Watsonville, California.
It’s quite likely that most, if not all, of the visual artists and entertainers whose talents were incorporated into the Inaugural events discovered their passions and honed their talents via arts-in-education programming and other opportunities made possible through arts funding.
Now, there will be naysayers who don’t understand that this funding is critical toward our quality of life, and many who will underestimate the economic impact of the arts.
This lack of insight should not diminish the need for funding.
More importantly, what many fail to recognize is that this arts funding is an investment in future generations. Through the arts, our children learn critical thinking skills, teamwork, problem solving and how to tap into their creativity, all of which are skills needed for future success. How many of the world’s most innovative leaders have credited arts-in-education programming as foundations for their accomplishments?
When people travel, they visit art museums and pose for photos in front of public art. They attend performances by musicians and theatre companies. They purchase publications sharing info about the community. And they buy the work of local artists. Many of these organizations and artists rely in part on art funding to ensure sustainability.
And, of course, when causes host fundraisers, among the first people they turn to for assistance are the visual artists, from whom they request free artwork for their auctions, and to musicians, who often are asked to perform gratis.
Through the funding provided by the NEA and NEH–a mere .02% of the federal budget–arts organizations, such as the aforementioned community theatre, make communities great. They make America great. And without this funding, many may cease to exist. We cannot let this happen.
In closing, I will leave you with the words of Microsoft Co-Founder Paul G. Allen:
“In my own philanthropy and business endeavors, I have seen the critical role that the arts play in stimulating creativity and in developing vital communities…the arts have a crucial impact on our economy and are an important catalyst for learning, discovery and achievement in our country.”