So much for bipartisanship. All of a sudden it feels like we’re back in the bad old days of the 1980s and ’90s “culture wars,” when the right-wing juggernaut raised fears of chocolate-coated performance artists to push its narrow view of American culture and its broad view of the body politic as a happy economic hunting ground for the plucking of the many by the few. Maybe the language isn’t as strident as when Annie Sprinkle was flashing and Jesse Helms was waxing apoplectic, but the tactic’s still there, as Republican Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma (whose daughter, ironically, is a prominent opera singer) and the recently right-wing-radicalized John McCain are making clear.
And listen to McCain’s recent take on the economic stimulus plan, which he apparently fears might benefit someone other than brokers and bankers if he doesn’t act swiftly to stem the unwashed tide:
â€œ$50 million in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts â€” all of us are for the arts. Tell me how that creates any significant number of jobs? After-school snack program is probably a good idea. Do we really want to spend $726 million on it?â€
Hell, no. Let them eat Twinkies. On their own dime.
Now, listen to the response to McCain from Tim DuRoche, Portland arts administrator, drummer, and writer of the smart Burnside Blog at Portland Spaces magazine. Tim sent us a copy of his letter:
I understand you are not aware of how funding for the arts creates jobs and stimulates the economy. So, I’d like to tell you what I do for a living and what our organization contributes to the economy. I work in community programs for a major theater company in Portland, ORâ€”providing outreach, access and public programs to local and regional audiences and schools (approximately 200,000 people a year visit our theater), all of whom buy tickets, eat in restaurants, pay for parking, shop, and ride public transit, activities which dramatically fuel the local and regional economy.
The construction and operations of our theater (which opened in 2006) is predicted to produce a total economic impact of $116.4 million during construction and the first 10 years of operations. Investment of these funds were associated with the provision of 510 temporary jobs during the 24-month construction period, and 12 permanent jobs created and then retained during operations of the theater.
In addition, 104 existing theater operations jobs were retained through this project. An estimated total of $46.7 million in direct, indirect and induced wages will be paid during the construction period and ten years of operations. $15.8 million in Federal, State and Local tax revenues are estimated to be generated over twelve years, including $6.7 million during the 24-month construction period, and $915k annually over 10 years when fully operational.
Additionally the building is a LEED-certified Platinum historic renovation that was redeveloped on a brownfields site, engaged high-performance green technology that reduces overall potable water usage by 89%, diverted 95% of construction waste from landfills, and retained over 79% of the existing 1891 structure, among other sustainable featuresâ€”ensuring that every system was designed to maximize the health of users and reduce the energy use of the building.
This is triple-bottom line proof why Sen. Coburn’s Amendment 175 is so off-base. Investing in arts and cultural infrastructure is an investment in the American spirit, it produces jobs, creates an economic multiplier effect that buoys our cityâ€™s mobility and freedom to dream, and translates into dollars that make sense for communities. It is not just social capital that the arts produce but hard capital, economic impact on the highest order–and one you can applaud nightly.
Thank you so much for asking what I do.
Community Programs Manager
Portland Center Stage
Our friends at Culture Shock have also been following this closely. They found this provocative challenge to the arts world from Chicago Tribune critic Chris Jones for its “stunning political ineptitude.” Time to think tactics, ladies and gentlemen.