There once was a city called Medellin tucked away in the mountains of northwest Colombia. It was once home to the cocaine kingpin Pablo Escobar, and with the cartels came crime and violence. In 1991, it was the murder capital of the world. The Colombian government intervened to help alleviate this horrific state, but not through police increases or military presence (though the policing programs were overhauled to make them more apt to deal with drug trafficking). Governments began to invest in education, school systems, and public art. Crime has since dropped eighty percent since then. Granted there is still a long way to go, but this drop in twenty years is reassuring.
The United States took similar action to save the country from staggering unemployment. The government funded arts projects all over the country for public, non-governmental buildings employing thousands of out-of-work artists who had yet to gain footing in the cultural community. Many of these two-hundred thousand works are still on display. Unfortunately the program ended in 1943. So long to the Federal Arts Program.
Now in the present moment, Detroit, Michigan is currently in a bit of a financial bind. Once home to a thriving car industry, Detroit now boasts one of the highest crime, arson, murder, and unemployment rates in the country, along with facing bankruptcy. The city has thousands of out-of-work pensioners that need payment, but there is no money that Detroit can spare. It’s solution may be to sell off works of art from the Detroit Institute of Arts appraised at $850 million. This would save Detroit from financial ruin, but it would also be devastating to the cultural atmosphere of that part of the nation (and to the whole of the nation in general) and to the morale of those who still live there (the emigration rate in Detroit is one of the highest in the country).
And here in Massachusetts, Governor Deval Patrick’s budget for 2015 proposed a thirteen percent cut in arts and culture programs state wide ($1.5 million). Boston Mayor Marty Walsh has been an advocate for arts programs going so far as to create an Office of Cultural Affairs to help artists health needs, professional development, and foster environments in which they can work. This budget cut would seriously hamper such ambitious plans for Bostonians who foster so much new art, and yet are one of the most seriously underfunded cities for arts in the country.
There must be belief that arts can save a city, a nation, and an economy. There must be an initiative to invest in education and in arts programs. Arts feeds the economy. Ours is starving.
But there has to come a time where we stop talking about the need for art and education in the United States. We have to start doing. We must start doing.