Investing in Arts and Culture Pays Dividends

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by Bill May
Executive Director, Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts

I am writing this as an educator, a craftsperson, a parent, a Tennessean, and a taxpayer.

As many families in our communities face hard financial choices, the fight to oppose cuts to cultural programs may feel very far away and removed from what matters in our daily lives.

I want to speak to those who may not be familiar with what the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) do for our community.

Three points to consider:

• As a former small business owner and one who runs an organization with a balanced budget, I have deep respect for those who are careful with their money and expect a return on their investment. If deficit reduction is a major concern for you, please consider that eliminating this funding will not make a dent in the national deficit. The cost to the taxpayer for national arts funding is $2 a year. While that costs less than half the cost of one fancy coffee a year, every $1 of NEA funding leverages $9 of private and public dollars. This total investment creates millions of jobs. If progress is to be made in balancing the national budget, it will require a clear-eyed and thoughtful consideration of what programs, agencies, and initiatives provide a return on investment. We must measure that return in terms of dollars, but we must also consider what we value and what makes our communities stronger.

• Making these cuts in arts funding is about much more than dismantling faraway federal agencies with acronyms for titles. This is about our heritage, our families, and our way of life. Think about the importance of your local history museum or your community dance company or theater group. Keep in mind that organizations which you know and support in your own community, organizations like Arrowmont School of Arts and Crafts, receive vital funds from these agencies. It is important to know that 40 percent of the grants made by the NEA in Tennessee are distributed at the state level through the Tennessee Arts Commission. This group of volunteers is appointed by the governor and made up of fellow Tennesseans who ensure that the money is spent wisely and effectively in local communities.

• Now consider the return on this investment in arts and culture. I work at a craft school that preserves and celebrates the rich Appalachian heritage of our community while building upon that tradition to ensure craft is relevant today. From Dolly Parton’s legacy to the proud community of artists who call Tennessee home, this resilient culture of craftsmanship and creative expression is fundamental to who we are. Over 25,000 local school students have been to Arrowmont through the years as part of our ArtReach program. Please ask your child or grandchild what that experience meant to them. Support those hoping to make a career as artists or craftspeople. Support those finding a voice through poetry, music or dance. The arts help us better understand ourselves and others, and help us lead creative and meaningful lives.

“You get what you pay for,” and these are programs worth paying for. Please have conversations with your family and friends about the importance of the arts. The proposed budget will be considered and voted on by our legislators in Washington, but the hurt will be felt here at home. Please join me in calling or writing your Representatives and Senators to let them know what you value and how you want your tax dollars spent. Your individual voice is needed to remind politicians that this is not a partisan issue, but rather a reflection of what you value and what you believe is important to the quality of life in your community. Below is contact information. Thank you for taking time to read this and consider what is at stake.

Sen. Lamar Alexander 
455 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510

Sen. Bob Corker
425 Dirksen Senate Office Building, Washington, D.C. 20510

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