Has the Backlash Against the Arts Arrived in the Form of Gov. Bobby Jindal?

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Back on Feb. 7, in a post originally written for the old version of The Clyde Fitch Report, I suggested — well, let me just reprint the title and opening lines of the post:

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The Coming Backlash Against Artists and Arts Funding

“….in my recent essay for the Fox Forum, I argued that the perennial yo-yo in federal arts funding is a terrible, often tragic joke, andthat while the proposed $50 million boost for the NEA may yet be passed as part of the stimulus package, it represents a big band-aid on a bigger, chronic problem, not a healthy, long-term, sustainable fiscal vision for the arts in the United States. Nor does it address the even more worrisome issue of the arts being politicized when things get tough, generally by the ultra-right, or whenever it feels politically expedient. Indeed, a backlash against the arts is coming. Mark. My. Words. Teresa Eyring, are you listening?”

Well, I don’t know that Teresa Eyring was listening, but now we have a particularly great example of one of the things I fear the most. True, most of the nation’s governors are having to wield scythes to their budgets, but what Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal is doing is draconian. Per the Los Angeles Times:

Now Gov. Jindal has proposed a $26.7-billion state budget for next year that makes painful but necessary program cuts to deal with a $1.3-billion drop in his state’s general fund income. According to the Associated Press, “The largest cuts would fall on health care and education programs…. The state’s health department would be cut $413 million, or 5%; public colleges would be trimmed $219 million, or nearly 8%; and the education department would lose $141 million, or nearly 3%.”

Unmentioned by the AP is the fate the Louisiana Decentralized Arts Fund, a competitive program that makes small grants ranging from $500 to $10,000 to arts and cultural projects in every parish of the state. The arts fund will lose just a couple of million dollars — chump change compared to the big numbers cited above.

Except, that is, when you look at the percentages. WWL-TV reported today the arts fund would be whacked a whopping 83% — effectively putting the program out of business. The arts, not health and education, are taking the largest cuts by a factor of 10.

Again, it’s not that Jindal is the only governor cutting arts funding; according to this story out of Tampa, Florida leads the nation in arts-appropriations cuts, and there is a considerable upset in New Jersey, where the Democratic governor, Jon “Wear a Seat Belt” Corzine, is proposing to hurl the Garden State’s arts scene into a traffic accident with so much in the way of cuts that, according to this story in the Star-Ledger, Corzine will actually be breaking the law by setting aside a 2003 edict that “guaranteed a percentage of hotel and motel tax revenues” to be dedicated to the arts. (It’s actually more complex: the law can be ignored when state appropriations for the arts falls below a certain number and, lo and behold, Corzine’s proposed budget number is below that baseline, which means it’ll be up to the New Jersey Legislature to fix the matter.)

But we know that Corzine is far from unfriendly to the arts. Indeed, I know it personally: he often attends the same press performances at Lincoln Center Theater that I go to and I’ve sat two rows behind him about a half-dozen times. Similarly, we know from this piece in the Huffington Postthat Jindal is almost palpably, frothing-at-the-mouth-like when it comes to defunding the arts. The Huffington piece quotes from a report written by two LSU folks, and just as the HuffPo quoted their report, I will too:

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Bobby Jindal is about to enact a shameful budget cut that will devastate Louisiana’s economy by slashing the state budget for the Arts and Arts education by 83%.

Yes, you read that correctly… 83 percent!

This extremist Republican will virtually eliminate a $10 billion industry supporting 144,000 jobs. The Louisiana House Appropriations Committee will be meeting on April 2nd– which is next week!– and they are our last hope to stop Jindal from pressing this insane course of action!

We are working to persuade the media to cover this story and give desperately-needed assistance to those Louisianians fighting to keep the Arts and Arts Education alive in our communities and schools!

Investing in the arts is economically productive. It is paramount in revitalizing struggling urban centers and dilapidating historic districts. In terms of civics, these programs foster public discourse and debate and critically activate public memory. Moreover, these programs attract tourism, which is a vital part of Louisiana’s struggling economy.

This shameful attack that shows Jindal’s true NeoConservative colors!

And there’s also this from the HuffPo story:

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The “cultural economy” in Louisiana is very real and Lt. Governor Mitch Landrieu’s office explains that the $2.5 million grants Jindal is trying to eliminate are a tremendous economic boost to every parish in the state. “The cultural economy is a $10 billion industry supporting 144,000 jobs. It’s certainly worth the investment, and the return on the investment has been significant. Our cultural stakeholders have made the industry a significant player in Louisiana’s economic health.”

Now, people can say that this is posturing by one Republican governor in one red state and perhaps there is some truth or validity to that argument. But I suggest again to the Teresa Eyrings and the Robert Lynch’s of the world that this is more than that. This is going to catch fire on the right like nobody’s business. There will be a backlash against artists and arts funding coming from the right-wing and it’s going to be as intense as it was during the NEA wars of the early 1990s. What are we doing about it? How are we preparing? Stupidly keeping our hands outstretched toward our dear Uncle Sam, believing that Barack and Kareem will protect us? Don’t believe it.

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We need new solutions to funding the arts that go beyond the belief that public arts funding is the key to everything.

We need new solutions to the politicization of the arts by those who just don’t get it.

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We need to plan for the backlash now.

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