The current Republican majority in the U.S. Congress and the Trump administration are considering putting an end to the National Endowment for the Arts, which would be a most unfortunate decision.
Since 1965, when the NEA was founded by an act of Congress, the agency has given a couple of hundred thousands of grants that have helped keep alive this great nation’s vibrant arts, both traditional and cutting-edge.
As often happens, unfortunately, when talk comes down to budget-cutting, the arts are often first on the chopping block, with too many uninformed people considering arts as frivolous fluff, not essential or – worse – subversive of traditional values. Years ago, in the late 1980s, there was a big push to end the NEA because of a handful of controversial art works, some of them denounced as blatantly obscene and/or disturbing. Some were, in fact, disturbing. And many great artworks, such as Picasso’s monumental Guernica, are disturbing – goads to our conscience. Such strange works three decades ago outraged some conservatives who were eager to throw out the baby with the bathwater. Fortunately, the NEA survived, largely because many enlightened conservatives who cherish and nurture the arts yelled “Whoa!”
The arts have enriched all of our lives in ways we don’t often think about. Some of the arts supported by the NEA include the following: folk and traditional arts, literature, local art agencies, museums, media arts, design, arts education in schools, dance, theater, opera, music and visual arts such as painting, print-making, sculpture and so much more.
Arts are what help make us fully-realized human beings in a civilized society, and every great society in history all the way back to antiquity has supported and nurtured the arts, as the world’s magnificent museums so eloquently testify. Societies that are not civilized, that thrive on barbarism, cannot tolerate art works because they view the arts as a threat to their twisted ideologies. Hitler’s regime and ISIS are two examples of art-haters that went on rampages, smashing and destroying as ISIS goons recently did in the ancient ruins of Palmyra, and in Syrian and Iraqi museums.
Thriving arts are dependent upon open minds and vigorous democracies. People who interact with arts and are enlivened by arts have a low tolerance for rigid ideologies and intolerant behaviors.
The NEA is “dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education.”
The annual budget of the NEA is about $146 million, a tiny fraction of the entire national budget. To kill the NEA would be a grave mistake, cutting off nose to spite face, a cynical move, a darkening of the light of American civilization.
We should loudly oppose ending this indispensable arts agency. Tell national legislators, “Do not kill the NEA.”
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.