A Conservative Case for the National Endowment for the Arts

Remember Mike Huckabee, the former governor of Arkansas who vied for the Republican presidential nomination in 2016? In this week's Washington Post, Huckabee makes an unexpected and passionate defense of the National Endowment for the Arts. Why now? Because President Trump's 2018 budget blueprint proposes that the NEA be eliminated. 

It's well worth reading Huckabee's editorial in its entirety (find it here) - but if you don't have time for that, here are some highlights:

I care greatly about the recipients of endowment funds: the kids in poverty for whom NEA programs may be their only chance to learn to play an instrument, test-drive their God-given creativity, and develop a passion for those things that civilize and humanize us all. They’re the reason we should stop and recognize that this line item accounting for just 0.004 percent of the federal budget is not what's breaking the bank

Participation in the arts leads to higher grade-point averages and SAT scores, as well as improvements in math skills and spatial reasoning. Do we want students who are less likely to drop out of school and more likely to have academic success, particularly in math and science? Music and art deliver, especially for students likely to get lost in an education assembly line that can be more Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” than about creative thinking and problem solving. Creativity finds cures for diseases, creates companies such as Apple and Microsoft and, above all, makes our culture more livable.

Many children get their only access to music and the arts via grants made by the NEA — 40 percent of which go to high-poverty neighborhoods, while 36 percent reach underserved people, such as veterans and those with disabilities. In fiscal year 2016, NEA grants went to nearly 16,000 communities, in every congressional district in the country.

But if the decision is to be made on purely economic grounds, consider the case laid out by advocates Earle I. Mack, Randall Bourscheidt and Robert L. Lynch in a recent OpEd in The Hill: The arts are a $730 billion industry, representing 4.2 percent of our gross domestic product — more than transportation, tourism and agriculture. The nonprofit side of the arts alone generates $135 billion in economic activity, supporting 4.1 million jobs. President Trump rightfully wants to end the U.S. trade imbalance, but the American arts generated a $30 billion trade surplus in 2014, on the strength of $60 billion in exports of various arts goods.

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I truly want the government to stop wasting my tax money. I want it to stop funding things that don’t work and things that get funded only because they are some congressman’s pet project or have a powerful lobby behind them. To some, it may seem as though the $147.9 million allocated to the NEA in fiscal year 2016 is money to be saved. But to someone such as me — for whom an early interest in music and the arts became a lifeline to an education and academic success — this money is not expendable, extracurricular or extraneous. It is essential.

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I’m for cutting waste and killing worthless programs. I’m not for cutting and killing the hope and help that come from creativity.