Practical Arts Advocacy: Protesting through Education
While there is a general outrage amongst the public that the current federal government plans to remove all funding for the arts and humanities, there is little news promoting possible actions that could, and should be taken to protest. Those who wish to support and keep these important programs, including the National Endowment for the Arts, should be considering multiple methods in which to protest their removal.
Though active protesting has been somewhat effective for other issues thus far into the current presidency, it has not struck a sympathetic chord with the public in favor of the arts in past years. Specifically, the National Endowment for the Arts has never consistently resonated well with the public, and many people outside of arts communities across the nation are unaware of the influence the NEA has within American culture as well as private arts patrons.
The cold, hard facts are this: the budget of the NEA makes up only 0.004% of the yearly federal budget, yet it consistently stimulates private funding, especially at the state and local levels (1). The Ohio Arts Council has consistently been awarded the second-highest yearly grant from the NEA for seven years. In 2016, the OAC was awarded $983,200 to be distributed across the entire state, and for the same year each dollar the OAC distributed was matched by $53 from local and private funding (2). While fiscally conservative individuals may prefer that the NEA be dissolved and leave arts funding to the state and local levels, they cannot fail to see the catalytic impact of federal money.
Though governmental support for the arts is not fiscally sustainable, the symbolic nature of its existence translates into multiplied support from various outside sources; without which the arts would not be able to continue.
Contrary to the intention, outspoken protesting in favor of the arts in the past has actually generated an unfavorable view of artist advocates as taking money from working class to give to the creative elite (3). However, NEA data has consistently demonstrated support for underserved communities across the nation as well as promoted the proven benefits of arts education for all children and people (4). Knowing this, it is important to object to the elimination of the NEA with both sensibility and practical strategy.
The first step in challenging misconceptions about the importance of the arts in education and culture is to change the public’s understanding of the arts. Today, the arts are no longer restricted to the white cube that is the private gallery, or the theater that only 1% can afford tickets for – it has flourished into vibrant communities, into improved educational practice, and into public outreach; many, thanks to the NEA and the various regional efforts that it sponsors.
Therefore, arts advocates must do their part without tantrum to educate and persuade the public of the vital qualities the arts offer to education and public wellness. Advocates must refrain from shouting into the void that is our current administration, but rather convince people, neighbors, and strangers, that they need the arts just as much artists do.
To do so, advocates must assume the role of educator to cultivate and sustain long-term public support. Children who are exposed to arts education grow up to remain involved or supportive of the arts, and many families who have been touched by public arts programs recognize the importance of funding as well as community support.
Artists and advocates alike must commit to using education as a practical means of communication and furthermore a political art form. Public programs such as museum outreach, community centers, social practice, and even those within the public education system are the key to reaching larger audiences with practical technique. Only in this way will artists and their advocates change the tone and substance of conversation surrounding federal funding into practical action and real change.
1 “NEA Quick Facts.” National Endowment for the Arts. 2016.
2 “Ohio Arts Council 2016-17 Budget Overview.” Ohio Arts Council. 2016.
3 Moss, I.D. “Uncomfortable Thoughts.” Createquity. August 19, 2014..
4 “Arts Education Fact Sheet.” National Endowment for the Arts. November 2016..
Written by Stephanie Cuyubamba Kong