Throughout his historical presidential campaign, Barack Obama’s arts platform recognized the value of the arts in creating a complete education: “In addition to giving our children the science and math skills they need to compete in the new global context, we should also encourage the ability to think creatively that comes from a meaningful arts education.” (BarackObama.com) Obama recognizes that the creative and critical thinking that our ever-changing workforce demands can be cultivated through substantial education and experience in the arts. Even in an economy that would typically seem to encourage or warrant budget cuts in the area of arts education, President Obama stands by his campaign platform regarding the arts in his commitment to continued federal funding of arts education programming.
The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 was signed into law by President Obama on Feburary 17, 2009 as his main effort to jumpstart the American economy and create and save millions of jobs across the country. With the added commitment to accountability and complete transparency, the website http://www.recovery.gov was set up as the main vehicle for the general public to monitor and track the federal government’s spending activity. The Departments of Education, Health and Human Services and Energy will be making the decisions about which individual organizations (hospitals, schools, contractors or even state legislators) will be receiving recovery money.
The National Endowment for the Arts is currently the major vehicle for distributing federal funding throughout the non-profit arts industry. $50 million of the Recovery Act was allocated to the NEA precisely for this purpose. The NEA will use $500,000 of this money to support their own administrative and program operations costs related to panels and travel, contractual support and staffing. 60% of the remaining funds from the Recovery Act will be available for the award $25,000 or $50,000 grants to non-profit arts organizations through a competitive, selective application process. The other 40% will be available for distruction to State arts agencies and regional arts organizations, who will subgrant locally in amounts of $100,000 or $250,000. Organizations can seek funding through four possible sources: direct application to the NEA, their State Arts Agency, a regional agency or a governmental local arts agency. (NEA.gov)
As monumental as this is, the process of signing this into law was not without its challenges. In an editorial for The Art Newspaper, Americans for the Arts CEO, Robert Lynch brings to light multiple obstacles, one of them being that political conservatives impeded the final legislation through their mockery of the $50 million investment in job recovery in the non-profit arts sector “as having nothing to do with the economy.” (Lynch) The most obvious, concrete contradiction to this claim is that artistic professionals are tax payers. But other elements of the Recovery Act are intertwined with the non-profit arts industry. Part of the $589m allocated to the National Park Service will also support workers with skills in the arts. This will enhance the viability of the arts industry as a whole; some of the construction efforts enabled by the Recovery Act will be projects housing the arts; and the intensified efforts to support unemployment and guarantee health care to all Americans will enhance the quality of life of individuals in these non-traditional careers. (Lynch)
The $50 million in NEA appropriations which is undoubtedly an enormous step forward and mark of federal policy support for the arts, and arts professionals and arts educators have no doubt found reassurance in President Obama’s efforts to increase funding in such a troubled economy. But it is notable that the misconception of the value of the arts in our society still exists in politics. Arts professionals and educators understand the intrinsic and educational benefits of the arts, but it is now up to those with the power to write federal and state policy to create this change in attitude towards the arts. But, through his Recovery Act funding, President Obama has set the example for us in bringing about these changes on a national level.