Recently, Donald Trump’s administration proposed a federal budget that would strip $741 million in annual funding allocated to the National Education Association, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which supports PBS and NPR). We’ve already outlined the dangers of defunding federal arts program; now David Byrne is speaking out against the this devastating potential move. The former Talking Heads frontman and prolific artist attended a protest at City Hall in New York on Tuesday and then published a thoughtful opinion piece on his personal website, titled “What Good Are the Arts?”
In his posting, Byrne refers to Trump’s plan as a “political move,” noting that $741 million “sounds like a lot, but is less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the United States’ annual federal spending.” He also acknowledges that the “arts are often viewed as the provenance of the elites — Why should we be paying for the silly amusements of other people? Stuff we have no interest in?” He adds, “I might actually agree that some of it is indulgent and silly, but I would argue that there is undeniable and indisputable monetary and social value to the nation as a whole in the publicly funded arts. It is by far one of the best investments the government can make.”
Citing a study called Arts and Economic Prosperity, Byrne says that nonprofit arts organizations generate $135 billion in economic activity in the US. Speaking to the hypocrite-in-chief’s real estate savvy, Byrne notes that the value of homes and businesses increases significantly around cultural centers.
“Developers and real estate investors understand this,” he writes. “An arts or cultural center increases the value of their nearby properties. Businesses—restaurants, cafes, shops—around cultural centers do better when there is an arts center close to their business. The value of real estate around culture goes up.”
Additionally, Byrne points to another recent study conducted by the University of Pennsylvania, which reveals a quantitive relationship between the presence of cultural resources and social well-being.
You can read the whole essay here, and read our own argument in favor of the NEA here.