Good news at last.
The $50 million for the arts that looked like it was being cut out of the economic recovery package last week has made it into the final bill. Did you phone or email your favorite (or not-so-favorite) member of Congress? If the answer is yes, take a little credit. Over 100,000 messages were sent in the final days, as the terms of the bill were being concluded. This made a difference.
Of special note is that language some Congressional mischief makers tried to insert, designed to -- get this -- prohibit any money from going to museums, theaters or art centers, was removed.
After the hammering the arts were subjected to at the hands of obstructionist Republicans (no more crayons for you, Mike Pence) and cowardly Democrats (Chuck Schumer and Dianne Feinstein better pay for their tickets from now on), this news was not only a great relief, but a sign that some measure of common sense may have taken hold in Washington. Maybe it was the president's news conference last Monday night. The reassertion, that is, of adult behavior in an environment that, over the years, has more closely resembled a mud wrestling pit or playground.
But before we get too carried away, a little perspective. That $50 million is little more than a fraction of the total recovery package, which amounts to almost $800 billion. We can only hope that this is not a reflection of where the arts stand in the great American pecking order although, when you stop and think about it...
What's kind of sigh-inducing is the realization that $50 million represents a major increase in federal arts spending. The total NEA budget is just $145 million. They spend that much on paper clips at the Defense Department and nobody thinks twice about it.
The really important thing here is that instead of being made a nonentity in institutional terms, the arts were included in legislation that, in essence, describes those engines of activity the country needs in order to get back on track. This happened in spite of a smear campaign that virtually labeled arts workers nonhumans, unworthy of public support.
Arts advocates can take heart at their being given a place at the nation's table. Thanks go to Rep. Louise Slaughter of New York, Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, Rep. David Obey of Wisconsin and Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington -- all Democrats, by the way -- for their willingness to champion arts funding when it would have been easy for all of them to play along with the demagogues who score their points by playing to the most mean-spirited rows of the peanut gallery.