Saving Federal Arts Funds: Selling Culture as an Economic Force
Feb. 16, 2009, New York Times — One would be hard pressed to argue that a call from Robert Redford to the speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, helped salvage money for the arts in the economic-stimulus bill last week.
But it certainly didn’t hurt as arts-friendly members of the House and Senate struggled to preserve $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts in the final version of the recovery package, approved by both houses on Friday.
There was a whiplash quality to the action surrounding the arts money. As the week wore on, things weren’t looking good. Although a House version of the bill had included the $50 million, the Senate version approved no arts money at all. The Senate even voted 73 to 24 on Feb. 6 for an amendment ruling out stimulus money for museums, arts centers and theaters. And some conservative Republicans had denounced the arts as bonbons for a leftist elite with no place in an emergency stimulus bill.
The challenge for culture boosters in Congress was to convince a House-Senate conference committee that the arts provide jobs as other industries do, while also encouraging tourism and spending in general.
“We had the facts on our side,” said Representative Louise M. Slaughter, a New York Democrat who is co-chairwoman of the Congressional Arts Caucus. “If we’re trying to stimulate the economy, and get money into the Treasury, nothing does that better than art.”
In his conversation last week with Ms. Pelosi, a California Democrat, Mr. Redford said, he drew on his film experience to argue for the arts as an economic engine. “Ticket takers or electricians or actors — all the people connected with the arts are at risk just like everybody else is,” he said in an interview. He said he also reminded Ms. Pelosi that his Sundance Film Festival brings more than $60 million to Park City, Utah, each year.