Monday, February 2, 2009

Art Pork

I have heard on the radio and read in print several commentators, talking heads, and members of the general public lambasting the economic stimulus bill now grinding its way through congress as being full of pork. Item Number One on everyone’s menu of critiques seems to be the 50 million dollars of funding being proposed for the National Endowment for the Arts. I heard a radio talk show guest say something along the lines of: “Building sculptures and putting on operas does not stimulate the economy, does not create jobs.” (I heard this approximate quote on the Patt Morrison Show—1-3 pm on 89.3 KPCC—sometime in the last two weeks.)

Well, sir, I beg to differ. No, building a single sculpture does not create hundreds of jobs instantaneously. However, the money used to bring such a thing about does touch many hands and businesses, spreading out in a community like the tiny little hair roots of a poke salet weed in search of sustenance. For instance: the foundry and its skilled workers who fabricate the sculpture are paid, so that they can pay bills and buy groceries and maybe some new blue jeans at the national retailer who pays rent to the mall; the steel mill gets a boost from the purchase of the few tons of raw material needed to create the artwork, and therefore continues to pay for health insurance and matching retirement funds for its employees; the freight company that transports the material and the finished artwork gets to put its equipment and workers in motion, and in so doing buys fuel, antifreeze, and paper forms in triplicate; the artist and her freelance assistants (who she pays!) work in a town or a city for a few days, buying coffee, sandwiches, and the odd Danish from the locally-owned bakery down the street from their worksite. The arts stimulate our economy underground, lubricating those wheels and gears in small ways, like bacon grease left in the skillet used to cook up some eggs. It’s small, but it keeps us grinding forward like that bill.

I work part time in the education department of an art museum, and I just survived a round of layoffs there. $50 million is small change in the grand scheme of things; but it can buy an awful lot of coffee, pizzas, construction paper, masking tape, and photo paper (the kinds of things we are constantly buying more of for projects and workshops). So if we stay employed, we keep making those kinds of purchases, and they help keep both Office Depot and Joe’s Giant Slice in business.

(image is Anish Kapoor's Cloud Gate in Chicago, from Wikipedia)

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