Arts and the Stimulus Package

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This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.

As the financial recession deepens, government and non-profit organizations alike have been forced to weed out the expendable from the essential. Sadly, music and the arts usually take the biggest hit. But to help boost investment, President Obama has allocated $50 million in his recent stimulus package to the creative community. And after Producer Quincy Jones, circulated a petition on the web urging Obama to appoint an Arts Leader in the Cabinet, President Obama responded, appointing Kareem Dale to oversee arts and culture in the Office of Public Liaison and Intergovernmental Affairs. If that weren't enough of a mouthful, Mr. Dale also has another Obama-appointed job. He already holds the title of Special Assistant to the President for Disability Policy. In other words, Mr. Dale has two governmental appointments at the White House. While I understand that multitasking has become a National sport, it would seem that the arts deserve more than part time love.

The real lifeline for the arts is the stimulus money. For musicians, painters, dancers and the creatively driven, winning a stimulus grant won't be easy. A total of $20 million will be going directly to individual states and $30 million will be made available to arts groups through the National Endowment for the Arts. But with so many arts programs struggling to survive, competition is fierce.

Meanwhile, naysayers of the arts allotment contend that the money could be better spent elsewhere. But the idea that the arts are unrelated to who we are, how we think, and where we're going is just plain wrong. The arts employ almost six million people in this country and contribute $166 billion into the economy.

When you look at it that way, it's amazing that the arts only got $50 million dollars, which is .006% of the total stimulus package.

One organization that should help guild the light is Musician Corp. Musician Corp is a developing AmeriCorp-type program that will enable musicians to serve low income schools. In 2008, The Aspen Institute named Musician Corp as one of the Top Ten Public Policy Proposals that would strengthen the United States. Musician Corp was founded by Kiff Gallagher. Gallagher served on President Clinton's team that developed AmeriCorp in the early 1990's and is currently on Obama's National Arts and Policy Committee. Musician Corp is an army of volunteer musicians dedicated to serve at at-risk public schools and after school programs, teaching music. Here's why it's important, music has a unique and important role in our schools. Learning to play music requires problem-solving skills sorely needed as adults. It offers the core components of innovation, creativity and focused, self-directed learning. It teaches how to navigate rough waters with other personalities, and the persistence required for personal mastery.

Music Corp is an inspiring concept and one that is needed in our country. As FDR pointed out in the aftermath of the Depression, during hard times it's the arts that fulfill our lives. I can't think of a better time to support this idea.

This is Celia Hirschman with On the Beat for KCRW.