Last Tuesday, Governor Doyle announced the awarding of $300,000 in stimulus grants for Wisconsin arts organization. Walker's Point Center for the Arts is a recipient of one of the $15,000 grants. That evening, a local legislator questioned the use of federal stimulus funds for the arts. On Wednesday, Vice President Joe Biden announced a $299 million award to a local firm for research and development of automotive battery technology. There was nothing but praise for that funding. And rightly so, since green technology research and development is a stated goal of the current administration.
In doing the math ($299 million vs. $300,000) I was reminded of the monetary value we place on arts and culture in this society and how arts are often the last funded and first cut when we have an economic downturn. I was also reminded how the arts are the focus of attack simply because artists often challenge the status quo and push our emotions on political, social and economic issues. The arts can also calm us in trying times and unite us in common cause. These are the very reasons the arts are necessary to sustain our vitality and continue our national dialogue around issues of culture and the arts.
The current recession has impacted all sectors of employment not just the financial or automotive sectors who have received the vast majority of stimulus funds. The purpose of stimulus funding was to create and restore jobs. The arts grant received by WPCA will result in the restoration of our part time classroom art teacher position providing free after school art education. These are Milwaukee youth in a neighborhood that has seen significant job loss during the past year. This position was cut in February due to the current recession and funding challenges facing many nonprofit organizations during the past several years. I am also reminded that artists' wages are far lower than those of research scientists or financial managers who have benefited most from the stimulus funds.