2020 and 2021 have been challenging but hopeful years for the performing arts, both nationally and internationally. We’ve seen with our own eyes how pandemics cripple entire industries, how unions neglect their workers, and how even today our most important platforms are dominated by the stories of white men. That said, the pandemic has also seen the rise of new and innovative modes of performance. Creators across the country have crafted new ways of looking at art and performance. As we returned from home to our familiar cramped, crowded, and captivating art spaces, the industry finally seemed poised to include non-white creators in art forms old and new.
With this kind of resilience in the face of extreme adversity, then, it’s no surprise that repeated attempts by various members of the political right to cut funding to arts organizations have routinely failed. President Trump has repeatedly tried to shut down the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), only to grow it under his presidency. However, such attempts to undermine the arts long predate Trump. In fact, the conservative icon, President Reagan, strongly opposed the NEA.
Today, conservative arguments against such funding are regularly published in the mainstream media. Some have suggested that a laissez-faire approach to the arts industry is particularly beneficial, creating a system in which the best artists survive. Others have argued that the arts have become a haven for rampant “revivalism” and anti-conservative values, thus undeserving of government assistance. At first glance, it seems that modern conservatives and conservatism at large should oppose such spending. If we look deeper, however, one can find arguments for increased funding for the arts that rest on the very values that underpin 21st-century American conservatism.
You’re never fully dressed without a smile (supported by GDP)
The GOP has repeatedly touted economic improvement as a key part of its policies; their 2016 platform begins with a critique of what the party leadership perceives as an economy ruined by the Democratic Party. Their solution? A laissez-faire economy and targeted tax reduction to promote growth and prosperity. Four years later, President Trump campaigned on the fact that the country’s GDP had grown under his presidency and his economic policies. While the numbers cited by President Trump may not have been as clear cut as he claims, there’s no denying the role of the performing arts industry in supporting the US economy. Data collected by the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the NEA indicates that the arts provided up to 4.5% of the country’s GDP in 2017. This would mean that the arts sector provides more to the economy than construction and l combined storage. If the Republican Party is serious about increasing GDP and promoting national job growth, it should support investment in the arts industry, a sector that consistently supports the economy. This amounts to giving tax breaks to companies that make money for the nation – both policies provide funds to sectors and companies that support the economy and, unlike the usual options, are guaranteed to provide more jobs. to American workers.
Anything you can do America does better
American exceptionalism is a key message on the GOP platform, and the party’s promotion of this ideal is a core component of its foreign policy. American culture must not only be preserved but also exported, so that the world can join in its celebration.
In addition to the monetary gains from the arts and culture industry’s exports, there is perhaps no better way to showcase American culture than by spreading its performing arts around the world. By properly funding artistic training and performance, more people and groups would be able to better present themselves in uniquely American art forms. Styles like jazz, musical theatre, Balanchine-style ballet and many more were conceived in the United States, and if the American curator really wants to promote the individuality and superiority of the American cultural landscape, then support the funding for artists and performance groups is crucial.
Don’t rain on my performances!
Some would argue that conservative opposition to arts funding is primarily rooted in their aversion to “liberal” media. Indeed, the organizations and productions that often succeed are the same ones that criticize, mock, or attack conservative American politics, culture, and people. Think of the infamous Hamilton Incident, or how dance has repeatedly been used to discuss racial politics in both formal and informal arenas.
However, such thinking is reductive and obliterates the significant part of the arts industry that is either non-partisan or even conservative. For example, award-winning playwright and screenwriter David Mamet is a famously conservative face within the Broadway firmament, frequently arguing in editorials for conservative arguments and against what he perceives to be more liberal arguments. Choosing not to fund the arts also means neglecting conservative artists, and the last thing the Republican Party should want to do right now is drown out conservative voices.
Additionally, the Republican Party, especially in Democratic strongholds, could use increased funding for the arts as part of its campaign platform. This could be seen as an opportunity to amplify the conservative voices that Hollywood’s wealthy elite are drowning out. Additionally, given the NEA’s propensity to fund arts and education in rural areas, conservative arts funding could be seen as an example of the Republican Party’s support for rural American citizens. While this may be a tough sell initially, this is a critical step for the GOP — especially because the Democratic Party is positioning itself as “the party that cares.”
Turn on the lights in the House (of Representatives)
In 2022, attempts to control how we discuss difficult issues in classrooms have come mostly from the right, and many fear the arts will be on the chopping block next. The chairman of the Freedom Caucus himself has repeatedly introduced bills with the express intention of defending the NEA. If Donald Trump runs and is elected president in 2024, he is likely to try to shut down the organization a 4th time.
As such, it is essential to remember that there are valid arguments for continued funding of the arts that align with conservatism – not just arguments rooted in economics, but in the moral framework to which the modern American conservative. Organizations such as the NEA and its lesser-known counterparts have operated on less than their due for far too long, even as they dramatically boost the American economy and provide Americans with the art they love. It’s time to provide them with the funding they deserve or, at the very least, to stop calling for their elimination.
Picture by Gwen King is licensed under Unsplash.