“The people of this country know now, whatever they were taught or thought they knew before, that art is not something just to be owned but something to be made: that it is the act of making and not the act of owning that is art. And knowing this they know also that art is not a treasure in the past or an importation from another land, but part of the present life of all the living and creating peoples—all who make and build; and, most of all, the young and vigorous peoples who have made and built our present wide country.” –Franklin Delano Roosevelt: Address at the Dedication of the National Gallery of Art, 1941
Federal Project Number One recieved $27 million as part of the Works Progress Administration.
Adjusted for inflation, that’s roughly $434.5 million.
Here’s some perspective on our national priorities.
That’s $785 billion in Iraq alone, or 1800 times the inflation-adjusted budget of an expenditure that included the Federal Theatre Project (which employed Orson Welles, Arthur Miller, John Houseman, Elia Kazan, etc.) as well as the Federal Writers’ Project (Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, Studs Turkel, etc.), and the Federal Art Project (Philip Guston, Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, etc.) which helped create so much work they needed a new building to hold it, which was donated, a mere six years later (see quote above).
And then there’s a twist: Harry Hopkins, the head of the WPA, promised that the Federal Theatre Project would be “free, adult, and uncensored.” In the four years of its existence, 78% of all patrons from sea to shining sea paid no price for admission. The Federal Music Project held free concerts. The Federal Art Project’s murals still decorate public buildings across the country. People were brought together and the bonds of their community were strengthened. Democracy was strengthened.
The FY2011 request for the NEA was $161 million which, adjusted to 1935 dollars, is $10.2 million, less than half of Federal One’s budget.
We should not be asking for an arts budget equal to that, we should be demanding much more. It’s simply a better investment, reaping cultural dividends rather than death.