When all our friends in D.C. (Reps, Sens and Obama, oh my!) were laying out the $800 billion Stimulus a few weeks ago, one of the Amendments proposed by Oklahoma Republican Senator, Tom Coburn, sent the art world up in arms. Mr. Coburn wanted to eliminate the $50 million appropriation for the National Endowment for the Arts, prohibiting stimulus funds going to any museum or cultural center. His amendment lumped us museums and art people in with casinos, golf courses, zoos and aquariums. Now, no offense to casinos, I love a good penny machine every so often, but I don't think I've ever put an art museums on the same level as Caesar's Palace in terms of offerings.
50 Million isn't even a penny when it's split throughout the entire country. We're talking 800 Billion here total. But fortunately, it's better than nothing. On Jan 28th, the House passed the bill, that included the grant to the National Endowment of the Arts.
This march to Washington by members of the art world a few weeks ago (my inbox was flooded with please so sign petitions) has brought up a question that seems to be looming during this time of economic hardship. Are the arts necessary? Why do we need them? The Smithsonian thought, well why not see where the arts were during the Great Depression? Did they help us along? Did they inspire us? Did they contribute to the economic vitality of our country?
Beginning Friday and through January 2010, the Smithsonian will host, 1934: A Deal for Artists, an exhibition featuring a selection of 56 paintings funded by the Public Works of Art Program in the dark days following the great depression. After a year at the Smithsonian, the exhibition will tour the US for three years, giving many the opportunity to see the show. The Public Works of Art Program was established by Franklin Roosevelt and was the first federal government program to support the arts nationally. Federal officials in the 1930s understood how essential art was to sustaining America’s spirit and assisted financially strained artists by commissioning them to create works depicting the "American Scene" for public use and view in schools, libraries and post offices. The artists pained subjects that were recognizable, of landscapes and rural life, that reminded Americans in 1934 the country's beauty and values we cherish this country for.
A New Deal for Artists most certainly underlines how arts can help restore confidence in the country. The Coburn Ammendment doubted the argument that arts and culture can play a positive role in the government's recovery efforts in an economic downturn. Hey, Coburn, we're in a bad state, but nowhere near where we were in 1934...and good ole' Roosevelt still threw us a few bones.
Ok, as Linda Danko, Biggs Museum Director, would say, "I'm getting off my podium now."
But.....go see this exhibition!