Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Deal On the Arts

Think Progress summarizes the efforts by Republicans to cut back on spending on the arts under the cover of economic hard times.

After Republican proposals to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities died in Congress this year, it might have seemed like there was a momentary lull in the fight over public funding for the arts. But at the state level, Republican governors and Republican-dominated legislatures are using difficult economic times as an excuse to slash the budgets of arts agencies and public broadcasters, or to try to eliminate them entirely.

In five states, Republican governors or legislatures have proposed either dismantling arts agencies or entirely eliminating some of their funding streams.

Those states include Kansas, where Gov. Sam Brownback (R) issued an executive order basically eliminating the Kansas Art Commission which, among other things, supports the William Inge Theatre Festival. The Kansas State Legislature overrode the executive order, but the governor plans another attack this month.

I may not be the most objective witness, but it’s hard to see that cutting back funding for the arts isn’t just a budget tactic; it’s another skirmish in the culture war. Conservatives argue that the state shouldn’t pay for things like theatre or art galleries, and they always go after arts and music classes in the public schools first thing when they’re cutting back on funding. The subtext is that the arts are for liberals and riddled with gay people, and we don’t need to be teaching that in the public schools. (But Dog forbid that anyone suggests cutting back on football — that would be un-American. If you’re going to cut sports, go after girls’ volleyball.)

The real threat of arts education is that it makes people think. And if they’re thinking, they’re going to be examining ideas and philosophies. It makes them look beyond what they see and hear and explore such dangerous things as self-expression and individuality. And we all know what that leads to.