Don’t cut federal funds for the arts

The federal government is poised to slash $71 million from the National Endowment for the Arts – something U.S. House Appropriations Chairman Hal Rogers, a Republican from Kentucky, considers “a lower-priority, or ‘nice-to-have’” program.

The proposed decrease amounts to about half the endowment’s funding from the previous year and would give it just $75 million to operate on. It’s the lowest funding level for the NEA since 1970, adjusted for inflation, according to Arts Alliance Illinois, a Chicago-based group that advocates for the arts and arts education.

The cut is counter to President Barack Obama’s request for $154.5 million for the NEA.

Rogers is correct: the arts are, indeed, “nice to have.” He’s also correct in noting that lawmakers are faced with tough budgetary decisions.

But he and other lawmakers should not dismiss the vital role the arts play in the nation’s economy, culture, beauty and history, nor should they ignore the trickle-down effect the cuts will have on local economies.

Such a drastic cut to the National Endowment for the Arts is shortsighted and fails to recognize the role arts programs play in preserving Main Street America.

Take downtown Springfield, for example. The arts account for a significant number of downtown events that draw thousands of visitors every year, especially during the warmer months.

So when lawmakers – be they federal, state or local – consider identifying the arts as “lower priority” or simply “nice to have” programs ripe for cutting, they need to stop and think about that for a minute.

The arts not only make people happy and improve their quality of life, they are indisputable economic engines for places like downtown Springfield.

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