thoughts on funding for the arts

Ever since The Public Theater’s Emerging Writers Group took a hiatus (temporary, I hope!), I’ve been hearing about arts fellowships and programs being cut. And, plain and simple, it sucks. A lot. But not just for the artists themselves, for whom these opportunities provide hope that their work is not in vain or completed in a vacuum, and that there’s inherent value in it.

But because it has value for everyone. Even from a purely monetary standpoint.

I couldn’t put it better than the Artistic Director of PlayPenn, Paul Meshejian, who in their Fall Newsletter wrote:

“In recent weeks, most likely in response to the state of our overall economy, there has been a renewed assertion – aired on Facebook and other networking websites – of the economic impact the arts has on our communities. “Write your representatives and use the template below to urge them not to cut funding for the arts – it helps to drive our economic engine. When someone attends an arts event they spend money to park, on hotels, at restaurants . . .” It can be an empowering argument to embrace and one that, on its face, seems the perfect approach to agencies and individuals in government, at all levels, who often find what we do superfluous in the face of the struggles many in our society face, under current circumstances. Once hard numbers are put on the table, this proposition about the economic value of the arts is enticing to us all. It offers antithesis to those who would see the arts as frivolous and answers them on their own terms in a way that cannot easily be countered.

I have been thinking that this argument has been made before, and to continue making it is to reduce what we do to having a singular value, that being an economic one. When we parrot that position, we diminish our purpose and we diminish whatever potential our work has to create richness in our society, the thing that we call culture. If economic value (profitability) is all, then what is the value of empathy, provocation, laughter, the introduction of novel ideas, or the enobling of the soul? Perhaps it’s time to begin rethinking our purpose and advancing our commitment to that purpose shamelessly.”

– Paul Meshejian, Artistic Director, PlayPenn


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