Invest in Artists & Community Cultural Development
Members of the Democratic Platform Committee
A healthy democracy embraces the right to culture, engaging us as whole people, not just workers or consumers, but as creators and communicators. This demands equitable investment in cultural infrastructure and in artists who put their gifts at the service of community.
The Democratic Party is asking for input on its platform. Let's ensure that arts and culture are embedded in all efforts to strengthen our communities and address our social, environmental, and economic problems.
Members of the Democratic Platform Committee
From: [Your Name]
Art and culture allow us to know each other. Our songs and stories connect and sustain communities. Culture is the arena in which we forge visions of a whole and sustainable future and plan our path towards them. The American people need a platform that embodies these truths, calling for the policies and investments that will strengthen our social and cultural fabric. We, the undersigned, urge you to incorporate these three essential points into the Democratic Party Platform:
1. IT'S TIME FOR A NEW PUBLIC SERVICE JOBS PROGRAM, PUTTING ARTISTS AND OTHERS TO WORK REPAIRING PHYSICAL AND CULTURAL INFRASTRUCTURE.
Twice before—in the 1930s with the WPA and the 1970s with CETA—this country’s response to widespread unemployment led to public service jobs. They put thousands of artists and creative workers (along with those in other sectors) to work in strengthening cultural infrastructure and social fabric, giving all Americans access to social goods that the marketplace deems a privilege for those who can afford them: theater, music, film, visual arts, parks and amphitheaters, cultural preservation, and much more. Since, then, there is ample evidence that strong arts programs effectively reduce public spending, making them cost savers even as they are quality of life enhancements. This case is being made via programs in creative aging, arts and health, intensive after-school arts programs, and in correctional institutions. For example, In 2011, NY State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli calculated that in his state’s criminal justice system, the cost of handling a single youth is $210,000 per year, noting, "If, for example, New York spends $500,000 on a crime prevention program, and only one child who would otherwise have become a career criminal is diverted from that path, the program would have generated total present-value benefits of $1.5 million to $2.2 million.” Putting teaching artists and community artists to work in these environments is a proven method of crime prevention, to pick just one social goal. Artists’ gifts for improvisation, resourcefulness, and resilience can advance all our positive social goals; all it will take is a modest investment.
2. DEMOCRATS SUPPORT CULTURAL EQUITY—A FAIR SHARE OF RESOURCES AND POWER FOR ALL COMMUNITIES REGARDLESS OF RACE, GENDER, ETHNICITY, ORIENTATION, GEOGRAPHY, OR OTHER CHARACTERISTICS—IN PROGRAMS AFFECTING AMERICA'S CULTURAL LIFE.
Private-sector support to artists and groups tilts strongly toward big-budget Eurocentric organizations that can mobilize wealthy patrons. The one percent of arts organizations with budgets over $10 million receives more than 50 percent of private donations. Public sector funders should remedy this imbalance, but their budgets are too small. To pick just one example, the real value of the 2016 dollar allocation to the National Endowment for the Arts is 4% less than it was in1980, which equals less than half the purchasing power of 36 years ago. National cultural life has also been affected by cuts in dozens of other agencies, from the National Park Service to the Department of Housing and Urban Development, from the State Department to the Department of Agriculture. Even these limited government funds have not been distributed fairly. Women, people of color, and other groups with less access to private wealth have received far less than Eurocentric organizations. Federal policies and funding must affirm our commitment to cultural equity. More funding must be allocated to support the full range of our country’s cultural life; and women, people of color, LGBTQ communities, and other underrepresented groups must be included as policymakers in all federal agencies that spend money on cultural activities.
3. DEMOCRATS COMMIT TO INVEST IN COMMUNITY CULTURAL DEVELOPMENT AS PART OF ALL PUBLIC SOCIAL PROGRAMS.
Across the U.S., we see rips in the social fabric tear communities apart: from Ferguson to Fairbanks, discriminatory policing impacts communities of color; anti-immigrant feeling is drummed up, ignoring the positive impacts of immigration; rural communities lose young people for lack of opportunity; in urban centers, people who live within walking distance fear to cross the invisible lines dividing their communities. It takes every community and culture to make a thriving society. The arts provide the most powerful tools for addressing deeply entrenched prejudices because they engage people’s hearts as well as their minds. By sharing each other’s stories, songs, histories, and celebrations and investing in all our communities, we will push past the stereotypes and fear-mongers to discover shared values and dreams. Investing in community cultural life is investing in belonging, the critical need American communities face. Funding for community cultural infrastructure—for local spaces, skills, and materials—and for the work of artists as an integral part of all public programs related to social well-being—policing, education, health care, environment, and other essential social programs—must be priorities.