That cultural neanderthalism still abides in certain quarters of the US government was evident this week during the Senate debate over inclusion of arts funding in the new stimulus bill. As reported by Robin Pogrebin in the New York Times of Monday, February 16, 2009, in attacking the stimulus bill "Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, had grouped museums, theaters and arts centers with implied frivolities like casinos and golf courses."
Another representative of contemporary atavism, Representative Jack Kingston, Republican of Georgia, stated that "'I just think putting people to work is more important than putting more art on the wall of some New York City gallery frequented by the elite art community.'" Kingston went on to suggest that the arts are "the favorite of the left," and added as justification for his opposition to funding the arts a populist-demogogic "Call me a sucker for the working man."
Countering Kingston was Representative David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, who noted that "Arts workers ... have 12.5 percent unemployment" and asked his Republican colleagues if they were "suggesting that somehow if you work in that field, it isn't real when you lose your job, your mortgage or your health insurance?"
I'm happy to report that the arts survived Republican hand wringing and made it into newly passed stimulus plan.
On the down side: the article noted that even as the arts were untied from casinos and golf courses these two latter institutions, along with zoos, aquariums and swimming pools, were excluded from the stimulus program. Don't casino, golf course, zoo, aquarium and swimming pool workers have rent and health insurance costs? Don't zoos and aquariums have high values within our educational and cultural lives? And as for their inmates, are we not alive to the fact that animals have rights, and, moreover, that at the least we have an obligation to those we hold captive?