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Funding For the Arts

Along with most other "non-essential," spending, federal government funding for the arts has been declining in recent years. Government funding for the arts comes from three main sources: the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), legislative app...

Along with most other "non-essential," spending, federal government funding for the arts has been declining in recent years. Government funding for the arts comes from three main sources: the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), legislative appropriations to state arts agencies, and local government spending. The NEA is the largest single funder of the arts, but most public funding comes from a combination of federal, state, local and regional agencies. Due partly to the recession, funding for all sorts of arts has been declining. In 2012, the NEA saw a decline in funding of six percent while the federal appropriations declined five percent, and the local levels down three percent. But how do these cuts actually affect us? What kinds of projects does the money actually contribute to?

Money from the NEA is usually designated to the preservation and advancement of artistic excellence, and 80% of its spending is in the form of grants. The NEA has helped develop and preserve dance, theater, opera, visual arts, design, traditional arts and media arts across the country. School districts can also receive arts funding from the NEA and various arts councils. Minnesota is unique in that it has a Constitutional amendment that provides money for the arts. In 2008, voters approved The Clean Water, Land and Legacy Amendment that allows the state to collect a small tax amounting to less than four cents on a ten-dollar purchase for clean water sources, wildlife habitats, and parks and trails. Twenty percent of proceeds go to the Minnesota State Arts Board and Minnesota's regional arts councils to fund arts education partnerships, festivals, public access to arts events and opportunities for artists. As a result, $93 million in funding went to support arts and cultural projects in Minnesota between 2009 and 2011.

Some view the arts as an easy target for funding cuts or even elimination. In schools across the country, the arts are often the first programs to be cut when budget cuts have to be made, and some schools have started to charge students for participation in the arts. There is a clear difference between more affluent districts, where arts programs are generally well endowed and flourish, and poor schools, where they are often eliminated or marginalized. Although in desperate economic times it may seem like cutting funding for the arts can help a tight budget, the fact remains that the arts are funded so little already that the impact they have on the budget gap is minimal. It is possible to say that cutting the arts actually widens the budget gap seeing as the arts provide more revenue than they take away. A strong arts presence in a community can create job opportunities. An open theatre creates more jobs than a nonexistent theatre, of course, and someone who has a job has money. Someone who has money then goes out and spends it in the economy. The arts can also create (or contribute to) tourism. In an extreme example, people travel to New York to see Broadway plays, in the same sense that people who come to the Twin Cities often go to see a show at the Guthrie, Ordway, Children's Theatre or one of the many local community theaters.

While the arts may be non-essential on a budget report, they are essential to a well-rounded, inspired society. The creative forces of a society have to be fostered, encouraged, allowed to grow, which is one reason why arts funding is such an important issue. When budgets are tight, though, it's probably an issue we'll return to a lot.

Sources used for this article include:

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Grant makers in the Arts Public Funding for the Arts; How the United States Funds the Arts, 3rd ed. National Endowment for the Arts; California Alliance for Arts Education.

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