The National Endowment for the Arts received $50 million in the Economic Stimulus bill. Unfortunately, it's become a joke on right wing blogs and talk radio. Do they think artists don't work? Is building a car intrinsically better than painting a picture? I just don't get it - maybe if a conservative happens to read this, he (I'm sure it will be a he) will enlighten me with a comment.
Let's look at the economic effects of art in Natchez. Many of you know that I was involved in founding ArtsNatchez Inc, a nonprofit with the mission of "promoting the arts in the greater Natchez area". We provide a Gallery where over 30 local artists can display and sell their art. While none of those artists can support themselves on what they earn from ArtsNatchez, it does help to make it possible for them to stay in Natchez and earn a living. Many of those artists came here from New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast after Katrina. But they stayed because they discovered they could work here. That's a lot of wage earners living in Natchez and spending their money.
But even more important, artists bring money to a community. As I've written about previously (here and here), art is Big Business - and it feeds on itself. The more art a town has, the more money it attracts. Natchez is a growing arts community. In addition to ArtsNatchez, we also have other relatively new businesses - Burns Pottery, Natchez Clay, Natchez Artists Association, Natchez Art & Framing, Southern Interiors - to name a few.
So what does this have to do with the Economic Stimulus Bill? ArtsNatchez is supported entirely by donations from generous local patrons. However, like other nonprofits, we're suffering during this economic crisis, because many of our patrons have been affected. Although ArtsNatchez will probably survive, many art nonprofits will not. When they fail, all those economic benefits will disappear as well.
Fifty million dollars is a drop in the bucket considering the whole package, but this money can enable thousands and thousands of nonprofits all across the country to stay open - and maintain the economic benefits in their communities. This is exactly what the legislation is for. These organizations don't need lots of money, the money is only needed temporarily, and it produces major economic benefits. Fortunately, Congress agreed and kept the money in the package.