Funding the Arts in America

The National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment of Humanities are independent agencies created in 1965 under President Lyndon B. Johnson to offer support and funding for projects exhibiting artistic excellence that enrich American culture.

Art studies close the gap between low and high income students and improves numerical skills, creativity, and social development, as pointed out in an article by Jodie Gummow on According to the Arts Index USA, the College Board reports that students who take four years of arts or music average about 100 points better on the verbal and math portions of the SAT, compared to those with a half-year or less. In 1994, Goals 2000: Educate America Act was enacted by Congress and recognized the arts for the first time as a part of the core curriculum on a federal level. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 reaffirms the arts as a core subject alongside English, language arts, math, science, foreign language, history, and beyond.

In a national study using a federal database of 25,000 middle and high school students, the University of California at Los Angeles concluded students involved in the arts performed better on standardized tests than those who are not.

Take a look at comparisons from countries across the world and their policies on art funding and support. According to USA Today, artists in Mexico can pay their taxes with an “art-for-amnesty” exchange. Since 1957, if a Mexican artist can sell at least five works of art a year, they can offer art in lieu of paying taxes. Around 700 artists are registered with Tax Administration Services.

In Australia 2011-2012, approximately $7 billion USD was distributed for a population of only 22 million people compared to America’s population of approximately 300 million.

In Sweden, there is generous funding for the arts. Swedish arts grant committee allocates approximately $15 million USD for a modest population of 9 million. Nordic culture fund supports architecture, design, visual arts, performing arts, film, literature, music, and multicultural projects. “Each year, huge sums are dished out to punk rock and indie bands, which American Republicans have criticized,” said Gummow.

In Germany, their cultural budget was approximately $1.63 billion USD in 2013 compared to America’s annual budget of $158 million.

If America is so far behind these countries in the funding the arts and culture, and financially starved by comparison, what are some positive aspects of the capitalist system? German born painter, Birgit Wolfram, who spends her time between London, Iceland, and New York, sat down with BTRtoday to talk about her experience with the NEA and making art in America.

“New York and other parts in the U.S. to me personally seem more open-minded in terms of accepting young talents,” she says. “At the same time, I appreciate Europe setting certain standards when it comes to discipline, or questioning the capitalist idea of mass production.” She has received an artist’s visa and a full scholarship of 12,000 dollars from the National Academy.

Patrick Grant is a Canadian musician who plays in the band “Twist.” BTRtoday spoke with him about touring Canada and crossing the border to tour America. “The mandate of the arts council grants is to highlight and fund lesser represented groups and genres” he explains. “This is a system based on the fact that our population is not big enough to support our arts industry. Americans have way more markets and it’s prohibitively expensive for most Canadian bands to ever play legally in America.” For Canadian artists to tour and play gigs in America they must join a union and apply for a work visa. “The whole process works out to over a grand for a four-person band registering and applying for the first time.”

While Canada provides more funding, it is more expensive to tour Canada and even more difficult to gain access to America. America has a wider variety of markets for artists and musicians. “So, while your next major market is only a day away pretty much anywhere in America, we only have a few big cities and they’re more spread out than that,” says Grant.

New York-based musician and graphic designer, Jose Berrio-Lesmes is a Colombian native who moved to America on an O-1 Visa for individuals with extraordinary ability or achievement. He believes this is an important program for artists coming to America to explore the opportunities available. “Although it is commonly known as ‘an artist’s visa,’ it’s not just for artists. But the fact that it’s known as that speaks a lot about how useful and important it is for the art community.”

With our broad markets and opportunity for creative professionals, imagine how far we could propel our artists and culture if our government valued arts education and funding in our country.

William Osborne is an American-born screenwriter who has lived in Europe for about 24 years. In an article he wrote for the American Arts Journal, he says, “If America averaged the same ratios per capita as Germany, it would have 485 full-time, year-round orchestras instead of about 20. If New York City had the same number of orchestras per capita as Munich it would have about 45. If New York City had the same number of full-time operas as Berlin per capita it would have six. Areas such as Queens, Staten Island, and the Bronx would be nationally and internationally important cultural centers.”

If we took even a percentage of the military budget in America and delegated it to art funding and programs, we could employ thousands of composers, painters and sculptors with a livable salary. We could revolutionize art and change history with our resources.