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To Sarah Palin: Actually, art does matter to the economy

March 17, 2011 | 11:41 am

Sarah PalinArt critic Christopher Knight didn't take kindly to Sarah Palin's description of the National Endowment for the Arts as a "frivolous" waste of tax dollars during the current economic climate.

Actually, Knight countered on The Times' art blog Culture Monster, "the nonprofit arts and culture industry supports 5.7 million jobs and generates $166.2 billion in annual economic activity, according to Americans for the Arts. The NEA is one linchpin in that sizable economy." Not to mention that "the government of every major civilization in world history has also prominently funded the arts."

Cutting funding to the arts has also been an issue at the state level. In his budget proposal for Kansas, for instance, Gov. Sam Brownback eliminated money for the Kansas Arts Commission, suggesting that the commission become a private nonprofit instead. To state Sen. Roger Reitz, a fellow Republican, this was a spectacularly bad idea, and he’s gone up against Brownback (ref: Senate Resolution #1819, "Senate saves arts commission's future") and argued that art not only enriches culture and makes our lives more interesting but is also good for the economy. Here's a snippet from his conversation with Kurt Andersen on "Studio 360," though the whole clip is worth the listen.

The Kansas nonprofit art sector is a $153.3 million industry, which supports over 4,000 jobs and generates over $15 million in state and local government revenues.

The loss of the Kansas Arts Commission totals a loss to the state of over $1.2 million each year, and without funding from the state to match the federal dollars ... Kansas loses $778,000.

Beyond economic policy and culture, for scientist Daniel J. Levitin, art also inspires curiosity and pushes us to become full human beings. In his case, human beings with good jobs in innovative, important fields. Here he is explaining in Wednesday's Op-Ed Saved by the (sax's) bell:   

[Playing the saxophone in the school jazz band] also awakened in me a curiosity about how things work in general, which is what eventually led me to become a scientist who studies the workings of neurons in the human brain.

We now know through neuroscience research that playing a musical instrument confers a number of advantages to cognitive development, especially in training attentional networks.

[…] I hope the next generation of public school kids gets the same opportunity the state of California gave me to discover things about themselves and the world through music.


Careful with the economy

--Alexandra Le Tellier

Photo: Sarah Palin. Credit: Justin Lane / EPA

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