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Obama's Stimulus Package Includes the Arts

Obama's Stimulus Package Includes the Arts

Valerie Atkisson / ArtBistro

October 12, 2009

One of the most controversial measures of President Obama’s stimulus package is his aid to the arts. “Singers, actors and dancers can stimulate audiences, but can they stimulate the economy? The authors of the current stimulus package seem to think so — they have included $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and $150 million for infrastructure repairs at the Smithsonian.” says Elizabeth Blair, NPR.

That is a lot of money to the NEA, a government agency that has be limping along for decades on a shoestring budget. Who will head up the NEA? Obama has not named his choice yet. We will have to wait and see who the NEA chief will be.

Artists and arts organizations have been struggling in this recession. Many have closed their doors due to a dry up in private donors. NPR points out:

“Michael Kaiser, head of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, says the arts industry is made up of thousands of small organizations, so they don’t always make headlines when they go bankrupt.

“The arts as a totality in this country employs 5.7 million people,” Kaiser says, “so we’re not a small sector of this economy. Our employment levels are important to this economy.”

The Obama administration seems to agree. Bill Ivey, former chair of the NEA, was on the president’s transition team. He says the agency is included in the package because it already has a system in place for moving money into the economy.

“The NEA really can give away money efficiently and effectively and quickly through a very responsible, peer reviewed, grant-making process,” Ivey says."

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As part of The New Deal President Roosevelt stared the WPA that gave thousands of artists jobs. Al Giordano reports, “To get the United States out of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt launched various stimulus programs to get people to back to work, most importantly, from 1935 to 1943, the Works Progress Administration (WPA). As part of the WPA, the Federal Arts Project (FAP) created work for 5,000 of America’s best artists who painted murals and posters, sculpted and created more than 225,000 works of art, mainly in state and local government buildings. (Contrast that 225,000 number over eight years with the just 119,000 grants by the NEA over 38 years, and you can get an idea of the scope.)”

Obama supports the arts and this stimulus package makes that clear. We have yet to see how the money will be used. Perhaps much depends on the next NEA cheif.


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