Today and yesterday, the federal government issued two papers that make us wonder whether we have our priorities right.
Report prepared by the U.S. Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis (BEA), entitled “Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account (ACPSA),” revealed this morning that economic activity from arts and culture increased 2.9 percent in 2016, the most recent year for which data is available. This is equivalent to 4.3 percent of GDP, or more than $800 billion in economic activity.
A new draft of the 2020 federal budget, unveiled by the Trump administration on March 18th, plans to do away with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), other public service entities like the National Endowment for the Humanities have also been abolished, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
Those in the arts sector who have been monitoring how Washington operates were not surprised by either news. However, when seen as a whole, they provide a striking contrast.
Arts and culture-related sectors employ five million Americans. Since 2012, the industry has grown faster than the overall economy every year, and it now contributes more to GDP than agriculture or transportation. Arts and culture are growing in popularity throughout the country. (The only state to have a drop in 2016 was Louisiana.) Furthermore, the skills have regularly produced a trade surplus for the United States, exporting more cultural products and services than the country buys.
These figures call into question a typical argument against government financing for arts and culture: it is nice to have but not necessary for economic success. The ACPSA data released this morning demonstrates that this is a fraudulent allegation.
Should the Trump administration’s apparent willful rejection for this favorable report be cause for concern? Sure, I’m concerned, but not scared. The administration’s intention to eliminate the NEA was included in its budget proposals for 2019, 2018, and 2017. Despite Trump’s party having complete control of Congress, it was never included in the final deal. Last year, 11 Republican members of Congress publicly disobeyed the president and fought for the endowment’s preservation. They even suggested that the funding be increased from prior years.
These officials referenced economic figures from the Bureau of Economic Analysis report, but they also highlighted a little-known NEA initiative designed and supported. Forces of Creation: The National Endowment for the Arts, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and state and local arts organizations have formed the NEA Military Healing Arts Network. Its purpose is to assist patients, and their families recover from the consequences of traumatic brain injury (TBI) and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) via art therapy and direct interaction with the arts (PTSD). Since its inception in 2012, the program has grown throughout the nation, emphasizing assisting disabled veterans in their return to civilian life.
I don’t think the arts need to explain their tiny government funding (the total NEA budget in 2018 was around the same as one F-22 fighter plane) with economic figures or veteran quality-of-life help. No matter one’s socioeconomic level or political affiliation, the arts are essential for being human. However, as we enter the third decade of the twenty-first century, America would be well to see the arts as a critical partner in maintaining our country competitive and prospering globally. As we confront the difficulties of increased automation, robots, and artificial intelligence, creativity and creative services—what the arts have to offer and can teach us—show us a way forward.
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