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Public Statements

National Endowment for the Arts

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

Ms. WASSERMAN SCHULTZ. Mr. Speaker, I rise today on behalf of the millions of Americans employed through our nation's vibrant arts sector. I stand in opposition to the unreasonable cuts proposed in Mr. Walberg's amendment to H.R. 2584, the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2012. Both the amendment and the underlying bill propose irresponsible cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

To understand the rich history of federal funding for the arts, one need look no further than my home state of Florida. From our State Library's extensive archives of folksongs documenting the history of Florida's multicultural fishing communities, the exquisite Depression-era murals that tell the history of Florida along the walls of our Federal Courthouse in Tallahassee, to Key West's intricate Hurricane Memorial down south, evidence of the positive impact of federally supported art projects abound throughout Florida.

Federal funding for the arts began during a time of great economic hardship in our country, under President Roosevelt's New Deal. During the Great Depression, artists were among the tens of millions of Americans out of work. They were able to get back to work through vital federal arts programs of the day. A significant portion of the materials documenting Florida's New Deal arts projects are housed in my home district, in the Broward County Library's Bienes Museum of the Modern Book. This collection contains hundreds of vintage Florida tourism posters and postcards created by artists employed by the Federal Arts Program (FAP), and visual aids produced for use in schools across the country.

The words of President Roosevelt's director of the FAP, Harry Hopkins, ring just as true today as they did in 1939 when he said of artists struggling during the Depression, "Hell, they have to eat too.'' The arts are not just a nice thing to have on display or something to do if there's free time, or if one can afford it. Arts jobs are real jobs, and today, more than ever, the arts are an economic engine in our communities.

My Congressional district is home to at least 2,800 arts-related businesses that employ 10,000 people. In this time of economic hardship, we know that the arts community has been affected deeply--forced to shed jobs and lose critical donations from the private sector.

I hear my colleagues across the aisle say that the arts can and should be supported by the private sector and philanthropy alone. However, federal support for the arts plays a critical role in leveraging private funding. On average, each NEA grant leverages at least seven dollars from other state, local, and private sources. Private support cannot match the leveraging role of government cultural funding. In our current economic climate when private donations are far harder to come by, this public seed money is more important than ever.

The NEA facilitates essential public-private partnerships through its grants and initiatives. Thanks to NEA support, previously underserved rural and inner city communities across the country are seeing a resurgence of cultural opportunities, which in turn increases tourism and attracts business. The arts have been shown to be a successful and sustainable strategy for revitalizing rural areas, inner cities and populations struggling with poverty. Arts organizations purchase goods and services that help local merchants thrive. Last year alone, arts tourism contributed more than $192 billion to the U.S. economy. Arts audiences spend money--more than $100 billion a year--on admissions, transportation, food, lodging and souvenirs that boost local economies.

Across the country, we see the positive impact of the arts on our students and families; yet, this bill proposes cuts to the NEA that will negatively affect thousands of children, young adults, and seniors engaged in lifelong learning.

As a legislator of more than 18 years and as a mother of three, I have seen time and again the tremendous impact art has on the developmental growth of children. It helps level the learning playing field without regard to socioeconomic boundaries. Students engaged in the arts perform better academically across the board and the NEA plays a crucial role in enhancing arts education across the country.

Children exposed to the arts are also more likely to do better in math, reading, and foreign languages. I will always support funding for arts in education because I know it is critical to America winning the future. An innovative country depends on ensuring that everyone has access to the arts and to cultural opportunity. We must guarantee that all children who believe in their talent are able to see a way to create a future for themselves in the arts community, be it as a hobby or as a profession.

Ever since our nation's founding, the inspired works of our artists and artisans have reflected the ingenuity, creativity, independence and beauty of our country. Federal support for the arts has helped preserve our cultural legacies for generations and we must protect its ability to do so in the years to come. The art our culture produces defines who we are as a people and provides an essential account of our history for future generations of Americans.

I urge my colleagues to stand against these irresponsible cuts to the NEA, which provides essential support for arts education and the arts community. Federal support for the arts keeps people employed and puts more Americans back to work. Now is certainly not the time to falter on our commitment to our nation's dynamic arts sector.

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