Funding for the Arts is paying for “elitist coastal liberals” to spread their diabolical views throughout the country. This assertion is at the heart of the Trump White House’s insistence that removing federal funding of the Arts for programs like the National Endowment for the Arts and PBS would be nothing more than a harmless cutting of some fat from the bloated American budget. An examination of the facts shows this simply isn’t true. Not only would cutting funding for the Arts only free up a minuscule 0.012% of our budget, it would cause grave harm to programs for at-risk vets and children, as well as adversely affect America’s rural areas.
“The president finally got to the point where he said, ‘do I really want to make the coal miner in West Virginia, or the auto worker in Ohio, or the single mom in Detroit pay for the National Endowment for the Arts or the Corporation for Public Broadcasting?’ And the answer is no,” White House budget Director Mike Mulvaney said recently during an appearance on “Fox and Friends.” Apparently, Mr. Mulvaney and President Trump haven’t taken the time to look into what’s happening in West Virginia, a state so marred by addiction it’s reached the point of a plague, as the Arts are often what are giving the children of drug addicted parents one of their only sources of escape and joy.
Take this heart-wrenching story produced by those monsters at PBS—from Cottageville Elementary in Cottageville, WV (pop. 1831) about the children of addict parents, whose escape from the misery of their home lives often comes in the form of writing and creating. Or the uplifting story of the RiffRaff Arts Collective in Princeton, West Virginia (pop. 7,000), who have helped turn an abandoned downtown into a thriving center for the Arts that has changed perceptions and attitudes in the area, helping “the folks in the neighborhood that have generally been looked down upon to be inspired and engaged,” with a newfound sense of pride in themselves and their town.
Although all American children would feel the sting of Arts funding cuts, most often it will be these low-income and/or high-risk kids who will suffer the most. The studies on how students benefit from Arts programs are myriad and conclusive in finding that the benefits students receive from participating in the Arts are often what keep kids interested in—and attending—school. In a study of high-poverty schools in Chicago—a city that has become one of President Trump’s favorite targets for disparagement—the schools participating in the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education made huge strides in closing the gap between high- and low-income students’ academic achievement vs. the ones that didn’t. Noted painter George Walker Bush even made sure to clearly state in his No Child Left Behind Act that the Arts were to be considered a core subject.
In urban population centers, arts funding often comes in the form of private donations, whereas in more rural areas funding can often come entirely in the form of government grants—meaning that like many of President Trump’s other policies, the folks who will suffer the most from a lack of Arts funding will be many of the people who voted for him in November. Furthermore, PBS allows its affiliates to show whatever content they choose.
Federal Arts funding often brings a great deal of cash into communities as well. It was a National Endowment for the Humanities grant that helped pay for the “Treasures of Tutankhamen” exhibition to travel to six American cities from 1976-79 and brought in countless millions to the cities it visited—the groundbreaking exhibition drew 1.36 million visitors to the Metropolitan Museum alone. A recent survey of business leaders across the country showed that 72% listed “creativity” as the number one skill they seek in an employee—and 85% said they have trouble finding enough of these creative people.
If the devastating effects on children aren’t enough to make your heart ache, these cuts will also affect combat veterans. One of the many, many examples of the Arts benefitting our vets is the National Endowment for the Arts and the Department of Defense joining forces to create a program entitled Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network, which “places creative arts therapies at the core of patient-centered care at ten additional clinical sites, and increases access to therapeutic arts activities in local communities for military members, veterans, and their families.” Impressed with the program’s success at helping veterans suffering from brain injuries and/or PTSD with their “invisible wounds,” in 2016 President Obama and congress approved a $1.9 million budget increase for the NEA specifically for the program. In October of last year, the partnership excitedly announced plans to expand beyond the two Washington, D.C.-area hospitals where the program began to five additional hospitals all around the country. The program and others like it will not exist if federal funding for the Arts is cut.
Just as art and its meaning can often be opaque and hard to define, the mental fog resulting from severe brain injury and PTSD so many of our veterans suffer from often makes symptoms hard to define—and therefore hard to treat—and renders traditional medical treatments ineffective. These unseen injuries are often the hardest to treat, and it’s in these difficult cases where a treatment plan including the Arts can be so vital. A recent survey of service members and veterans ranked art therapy as the fourth most effective (out of 40) treatment available to service members. To rob those who serve our country of an essential treatment and recovery tool is simply unconscionable.
This is not a group of elitist, obscenely rich liberals wearing berets and standing around discussing a $12 million painting that looks like Jackson Pollack blew his nose and painted shot onto the canvas—these are the men and women who have fought and sacrificed for our country’s very existence and will be robbed of an essential tool in their road to recovery. You don’t need an advanced degree in Art Theory to know that is a disservice to veterans everywhere.
It’s impossible to deny the good these programs can do when actually examining the results in a real and tangible way, such as this video of Army Veteran Willie Weaver-Bey explaining how the arts changed—and saved—his life. Just try to not to be moved by Weaver-Bey’s tears as he emotionally describes what it feels like to have his children tell him they’re proud of him after missing the vast majority of their lives while he was in jail on drug charges. Stories like Weaver-Bey’s perfectly exemplify the good federally funded arts programs can do for vets, ex-cons and the homeless alike, and there are thousands upon thousands of similar stories. The National Veterans Creative Arts Festival where Willie showed his work featured the art of over 120 veterans—and took place in Jackson, Mississippi, not a coastal city filled with liberal artsy types.
It’s abundantly clear that cutting federal funding for the Arts would be a grave disservice to American culture as a whole, would especially affect our most at risk and vulnerable Americans, and would only serve to further isolate blighted rural regions that have been provided a source of pride and hope via the Arts. It is also that clear programs like The National Endowment for the Arts care deeply about helping our at-risk children and suffering veterans—it’s not as clear that the Trump administration does.