Arts Funding, March for Our Lives

Big Week

This week, in the span of two days, the trillion dollar budget passed with increases in arts funding and the students marched everywhere for their lives! What a week!

Arts Advocacy Day

I had been up on the hill with more than 600 other arts organizations last week for arts advocacy day. On that day, I saw eight representatives from the state of Massachusetts and two Senators. Mostly we talked to their counsels, staff, or interns. We had been advocating to reinstate the money that had been zeroed out by the Trump administration for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, arts funding for the Department of Education, art therapy funding for our returning vets, and all the other funding that comes to the arts through the federal government.  It was an important day for arts advocacy nationally, but it was also an important day for me personally, as I saw the working democracy in our nation’s capital. Government officials listened to our needs and responded by taking notes, pushing legislation, and getting the bill passed! Congratulations to all of us because we live in a democracy that works.

New Funding for the Arts

A bipartisan federal spending deal includes a $3 million increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)! At long last, Congress agreed on and passed a catch-all spending bill for FY2018, the current fiscal year that began on October 1, 2017. Despite proposals from the Trump Administration to terminate the NEA, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), and Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), each of these agencies and other arts-related initiatives are receiving increases, and the President has just signed the bill into law today (League of American Orchestras).

March for Our Lives

It often goes unmentioned, but it should always be remembered, that the arts are a peaceful activity that support student creativity. The March for Our Lives movement started because no one was taking school shootings seriously enough to enact legislation that would decrease the likelihood of students in K-12 schools being shot.  Perhaps the peacefulness of the arts and the violence of school shootings are clear extremes that define our kids and their experiences in schools today—an experience that seems haphazard.  I would argue that schools are more reflective of their neighborhoods than anyone is comfortable saying and that real school reform depends on changing our communities for the better. This is where gun safety fits into the school equation. To demand that teachers be armed with guns is to ignore the reason why there are gunmen in our communities looking for people to shoot.

I found this news reporting in my mailbox from the New York Times on Saturday:

Tens of thousands of people, outraged by a recent massacre at a South Florida school and energized by the students who survived, are spilling out in public protest in Washington and communities across the world on Saturday as they call for an end to gun violence.

The student activists, many of them sharp-tongued and defiant in the face of politicians and gun lobbyists, have kept attention on the issue in a time of renewed political activism on the left, as they helped lead a national school walkout and pushed state officials in Floridato enact gun legislation. The effectiveness of the students’ efforts will be measured, in part, on the success of Saturday’s events — their most ambitious show of force yet.

Here’s what we’re watching as protests unfurl around the globe:

• More than 800 protests are planned in every American state and on every continent except for Antarctica, according to a website set up by organizersHere’s a map of planned protests.

• The National Park Service has approved a permit for the Washington march that estimates 500,000 people could attend. Called March for Our Lives, the main event there kicks off around midday, and some of the most prominent student activists from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., where a shooting left 17 dead last month, will speak.

• On Saturday, the White House said in a statement, “We applaud the many courageous young Americans exercising their First Amendment rights today.” On Friday, the Justice Department proposed banning so-called bump stocks, but President Trump signed a spending bill that included only some background check and school safety measures.

Life and Death

As I watch Paul McCartney who is attending the rally in New York City, I am thinking about how our politicians need to be taking these rallies seriously. This is a galvanizing moment for these students and their families and these people will grow up to vote. When politicians take their voters seriously our country’s laws often change for the better. We all need to do our part—whether that is by marching in the streets or promoting good practices in the schools or even building new legislation at the national level. In this particular case it really is a matter of life and death.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

Dr. Robert A. Southworth, Jr.

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