“NPR, National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, all those kind of frivolous things that government shouldn’t be in the business of funding with tax dollars — those should all be on the chopping block…those are the type of things that for more than one reason need to be cut.” – Sarah Palin
Dear Mrs. Palin:
I am sorry to hear that you feel that government funding of the arts is a “frivolous” expenditure. I’m sorry that, as with other things you feel qualified to speak knowledgeably about, you have failed to do a little more homework, and explore just what this money helps to do.
The organization I work for receives money from the National Endowment for the Arts. It’s not much; your Constitution-emblazoned, tricked-out luxury bus easily cost tens of thousands more than what we get from the NEA. But that’s neither here nor there. We are grateful for this grant, as we are grateful for the money we receive from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and the City of Boston. We express our gratitude by regularly keeping them (as well as our private funders) informed of what we do with this money. This information is easily found on the internet and in newspapers, as is most good news about how the arts help people.
We put on plays, yes, which I suppose by your definition falls under “frivolity.” We also employ over 500 people a year, contributing approximately $6.2 million to the local economy. The above statistic seems to be the one you will understand the most, but I’ll try to put a more human spin to our impact as well.
We have many education and community outreach programs as well, and these are funded in part by local, state, and federal grants. We work with students from a local charter high school. Part of their curriculum is based each year on our season. The kids we work with enter this school with below-average literacy skills. 99% of the school’s graduating classes pass the Language Arts portion of their Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment Systems (MCAS) exam on the first try. Roughly the same percentage are accepted to four-year colleges and universities by the time they’re seniors.
The parents of an autistic teenager recently reached out to thank us for our student matinee series. Their son attended a performance, and came home interested in learning more about Shakespeare. They were thrilled that their son was able to connect in some small way with the outside world.
I know what my work is helping to achieve, Mrs. Palin, and it’s why I’ve declined taking a more lucrative position in a less “frivolous” field. The arts saved my life, as they have saved the lives of countless other gainfully-employed, law-abiding, tax-paying citizens who struggled socially when they were younger, who were bullied, and who were told that they were less worthy by people who couldn’t look past the surface and see what they had to offer. The programs that are funded by government grants give kids the opportunity to express themselves by singing a song, acting a role, painting a portrait, choreographing a dance (much like the ones your daughter had to learn not very long ago)…they are learning to CREATE things that comfort, inform, and nourish people in ways that I don’t think you’ve personally experienced. You couldn’t possibly have, or else you wouldn’t make these declarations.
“I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well. And I look forward to a world which will be safe not only for democracy and diversity but also for personal distinction.” – John F. Kennedy
“The rich history of our country and the creativity of the human spirit are reflected in the arts. Across our Nation, the arts and humanities help people explore ideas, express emotions, and better appreciate cultures from around the world. They also remind us of the unique fabric that makes up our society.”
– George W. Bush
I hope that you’ll reconsider that position one day.