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Amy L. Schmidt, Published August 10 2013

Letter: The arts enhance our lives

The U.S. House of Representatives Appropriations Committee approved a bill that would cut the National Endowment for the Arts by 49 percent. The endowment supports artistic excellence and improves access to the arts by granting funds to nonprofit arts organizations. The cuts to NEA funding are significantly disproportionate to the rest of the budget. Cuts of this magnitude would end the agency’s ability to fund grants in every congressional district, and would bring the NEA’s funding down to a level not seen since 1974.

Michelle Obama gave an 11-minute address about the arts as a prelude to performances at the Pittsburgh Creative & Performing Arts School, in September 2009. The following is an excerpt from the White House transcript:

“We believe strongly that the arts aren’t somehow an ‘extra’ part of our national life, but instead we feel that the arts are at the heart of our national life. It is through our music, our literature, our art, drama and dance that we tell the story of our past and we express our hopes for the future. Our artists challenge our assumptions in ways that many cannot and do not. They expand our understandings, and push us to view our world in new and very unexpected ways. …

“That is the power of the arts – to remind us of what we each have to offer, and what we all have in common; to help us understand our history and imagine our future; to give us hope in the moments of struggle; and to bring us together when nothing else will.”

The arts enhance the quality of our lives in many ways. The arts provide a creative outlet and a means to engage our youth. What does that mean in our own community? Since the Red Door Gallery in Wahpeton, N.D., has been open, the most common question has been regarding access to art classes for kids. Our community is fortunate that through local support, we have arts resources such as the Red Door Gallery. Our nation must have the same commitment to the arts.

The arts preserve our cultural heritage and support ethnic diversity. Our rural communities contain some of the greatest cultural assets of our country. Rural economic development should be strengthened to help these communities promote the richness of their heritage and assist local artists with their entrepreneurship.

Beyond their intrinsic value, arts and culture drive a creativity-based economy. The arts earn tax revenue for local and state government. Across the country, the role of the arts as an economic engine is growing in acceptance and strength.

The arts attract tourists and new tourism dollars. Public support of cultural tourism plays a critical role in community revitalization as well as in the surge in tourism, which is one of the fastest-growing economic markets in the country today. Sixty-five percent of U.S. travelers include cultural events as a part of their trips.

Art is important to us, because of how life would be without it, though we may not know it. We take it for granted, because many of us do not see its effects. The quality of our lives and our communities would be diminished without art. At the end of the day, it is a small percentage of the national budget, but its value is huge. We get a great big bang for our buck.

Schmidt is with the Three Rivers Arts Council of Wahpeton, N.D., and Breckinridge, Minn.