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Why Arts Funding Should Be Something We’re Talking About… Online

Digital Activism: Why does your social justice theme/topic warrant a specifically digital response?

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The issue of arts and music funding is particularly pressing in these economic times. In order for public schools to operate, many of them must pass their budgets and make cuts, and the first programs to be cut are often those relating to the arts and music. Their argument is simple: the arts and music do not teach skills that children need to better themselves academically and go to college. I always suspected that really the argument should be that the arts and music do not teach skills that children need to pass standardized tests and meet the goals set by the school district. But I digress.

This alone makes the issue one that should be responded to digitally. By spreading the word via the Internet, people who may have never thought of it as a problem before can begin to learn. Even if someone just sees a snapshot of an article detailing how beneficial music lessons can be for a child, that article can leave a subconscious impression on that person that the arts and music really are useful and important. These baby steps are key to changing how society as a whole reflects on art or music class. It’s easy to forget that art class was good for you in your elementary school days, or perhaps music class did not benefit you that much, but that does not take away from the fact that there are young students out there who can advance from such programs. By creating a widespread, digital response to the issue of disappearing arts programs, we grasp the chance to give more people a positive perception of them.

Further, some of the very skills learned in arts programs are those that would be used in making this digital response. One could argue that the creativity we see in many Internet users today could have been fostered by an early exposure to the arts. Although this is just conjecture, there is evidence that many professional fields do require people to think in a creative, nontraditional way in order to solve problems. There is also concrete evidence that the arts give students skills and ways of thinking beyond the norm. These skills go beyond those of analysis and logic that come from English and math classes. They require a new point of view, which can be provided by exploring self-expression in art and music.

The arts benefit people collectively, too, by creating a sort of social capital, which is when people can bond despite perceived differences. Again, this helps people in the workplace and in life. In regards to why this warrants an online response, the explanation is easy–because the Internet can disconnect people from face-to-face interaction, the social capital the arts foster has a high value.

The issue of funding the arts and music requires a digital response most of all because it is an urgent problem. School programs are be continually cut and devalued, and if this perspective and action isn’t changed soon, they could disappear completely. Politically, this problem is definitely not brought to the forefront by today’s politicians, so instead society must find a way to push it there, and the Internet has always been a great tool for rediscovering lost issues. By placing a higher value on arts programs, we are placing a higher value on the creative mind, and the best way to spread that word is digitally.

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The Internet: A Free for All or a Place of Freedoms?

The Internet: To what extent is the Internet fundamentally democratic?

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In theory, the Internet should not be democratic—it should be anarchy. There is no single regulating force or regime that decides what is important or what isn’t (unless you have some Google-is-Big-Brother theory, but for the sake of this blog’s length, we’ll pretend you don’t). I think the Internet is indeed democratic, but I believe the question is flawed in asserting that that is the “right” or “natural” state of the Internet.

These days, I feel like the word democracy has gotten misconstrued. Its definition is as follows:

de·moc·ra·cy [dih-mok-ruh-see]

noun, plural de·moc·ra·cies.

1. government by the people; a form of government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised directly by them or by their elected agents under a free electoral system.

Thus, a democracy does have a specific power that is controlling the system. The Internet does not have this, nor will ever truly have this. Granted, some countries regulate their Internet, but that is not the doing of the Internet and its constituents as a whole. A democratic Internet would be one where every single user has the opportunity to decide how the Internet works, like what can be put on it, what is stealing from the Internet, and other such issues. However, the Internet does not have that or need that. It is, for all intents and purposes, a free for all. Granted, there are certain regulations with copyright and laws in the United States, but these do not exist in the Internet. In fact, a lot of the exist because of the Internet, like laws regulating music downloading because of Napster, for example.

Also, one must consider that the Internet is not a body that even truly can have one system of government. Instead, it is the amalgamation of a mass of ideas from different people, different languages, different societies, different countries, etc. etc. This is what I think makes the Internet a little democratic. The pressures of what is popular and what isn’t creates a sort of “election,” as what “wins” is what will pop up first on other social media sites.

To return to the original question, I do not think the Internet is fundamentally democratic nor should it be. Instead, it has a ghost structure of a democratic system due to the way it operates and forces certain issues to the forefront. It also interestingly has a much more complicated system of “parties,” mirroring the political parties we see in America today both literally and in other areas. These parties are the users you see competing with one another on Twitter, forums, and other posts.

There is plenty of evidence that the Internet influences democracy, but the Internet itself is not a structure that can be democratic. Although the Internet has some elements that make it seem democratic, it simply cannot be due to its sheer size.

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The Importance of Arts Funding

Why Fund the Arts?

The arts are an essential part of our everyday lives, whether we notice it or not.

From the design of the building you walk through to the music you hear in the elevator, someone somewhere had to embrace a feeling of creativity in order to create so many of the sensory elements in our everyday lives. Before that artist could create some actual piece, though, he or she had to be trained to do so, or at least given the tools and opportunity to embrace a natural talent.

All too often, this is stunted by:

  • the cutting of visual arts programs in schools
  • the cutting of music programs in schools
  • the lack of free after school art programs
  • the lack of free community music and art programs
  • schools emphasizing the importance of academic disciplines over the arts

Children are receiving less of a chance to learn a skill outside of the traditional reading and arithmetic we teach them. Thus, the issue of arts funding is relevant to all of our lives.

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How Scarce Is Funding?

According to The City Wire, the annual amount of funding for the Arts, including state, local, and national dollars, is $350 million. This “contributed income” is less than 13% of what supports Arts programs, while closer to 44% of funding for the arts actually comes from the arts itself by way of revenue generation. The National Endowment for the Arts is the independent national organization founded by the U.S. government in 1965, and its purpose is to “support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities” according to its website. To date, it has granted more than $4 billion in that mission.

Consider how minuscule this amount is in comparison to the annual budget of the United States is. For example, in 2013, the approved budget had estimated expenditures of over $38 trillion dollars. Yet, a very insignificant portion of that went to funding the arts or the arts education.

Check out more information about the NEA here.

But Why Should the Government Fund the Arts?

I am in no way suggesting we should radically alter the way we operate as a country by shifting ridiculous amounts of funding towards the arts. Instead, I am suggesting a small but definite increase in arts education funding. I want there to be enough for students to have a music class once a week or have access to art supplies, or most of all have the option of an after school or community art program. Our government is already huge, so I dismiss the argument that allowing the government to get more involved in arts funding is unnecessary or somehow unconstitutional. Our government has a duty to its people to fund programs that better the quality of life, and the arts can do that.

Other countries spend significantly more on arts funding than the United States, as evidenced here by the Canada Council for the Arts.

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Click image to enlarge.

Explore the entire U.S. budget here.

What are the Benefits?

By giving kids a place to go after school to do something positive, or even by teaching them a creative hobby within school that they can foster on their own, we brighten their futures. The problem exists everywhere in the U.S. Kids don’t always have a healthy environment to grow up in nor a family that will guide them in the right direction, and those values are difficult to regulate. However, we can give them the gift of the arts. By giving kids this chance, we increase the chance that they will stay off the streets and away from drug or gang involvement, especially in inner cities. Everywhere, though, we give kids the chance to see themselves as someone who has a future or a talent, whether they gain that from picking up an instrument or from picking up a paintbrush.

Today the arts are expanding into the realm of technology—and this part I find particularly relevant to today’s society. If we give kids the education about digital media as art, they can transform that into a marketable skill. The possibilities are endless. In conclusion, arts funding is an issue that should take audience with all members of the U.S. public, as it affects our everyday lives and the overall sense of society we have as a nation.