On Monday, the NY Times reported that President Obama’s proposed budget includes an $8 million dollar increase to National Endowment for the Arts funding.
Not surprisingly, Republican presidential hopefuls have criticized the plan. Mitt Romney calls it “an insult to the American taxpayer.” In fact, in the Op-Ed that Romney wrote last November for USA Today, he calls for:
“deep reductions in the subsidies for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Legal Services Corporation.”
Culture programs always seem to be deemed “unnecessary” extras that should be the first to be cut during a recession. But in reality, we should think of agencies like the NEA as programs that support and advocate for small-business owners. After all, isn’t that what most artists are? Cultural value aside (and I do believe that art contributes significant cognitive, educational, and cultural value to society), in the current national economy where we lament the loss of manufacturing jobs, where we mourn the lack of *making*, many artists are doing just that: making things. Indeed, they are often one-of -a-kind items, not assembly-line produced, but art is arguably no more or less necessary/useful than the electronics, accessories or toys that are now made in China.
Not only do many artists make things– paintings, sculptures, public art projects, photographs, and installations, but just like other small business owners, we purchase materials to make these things– lumber, software, paper, canvas, paint, film. We purchase or rent space in which to make these things. We educate ourselves, and keep up with the latest relevant training. We obtain licenses and permits; We market and brand our products and often ourselves; we network; we do bookkeeping; we file taxes. We create strategic business plans. We buy health insurance. Even if our business has only one employee, we often outsource business-related things (website-design or fabrication) and often locally. And if we are fortunate enough to create a successful creative enterprise, then we may grow, and hire employees. Artists are laborers and entrepreneurs– an active part of the national economy, and we need to demand that we’re treated as such.