My Response to Rep. Scott Tipton (R-CO) about Arts Funding

Award Winning Arts Journalist Leanne Goebel Offers Insight into the Domino Effect of a Little Government Funding and its Impact on Communities.

Recently, Scott Tipton (R-CO 3rd District) responded to Arts For Colorado Board Member Leanne Goebel about arts funding:

“Having started my own pottery business, I have a true appreciation for the arts. I know firsthand that with the right product and a strong work ethic one can make a successful living in the arts business. I believe that most artists can be successful without government funding. Funding for the arts should be evaluated on a case-by-case basis.”

Representative Tipton insinuates that artists who haven’t figured out how to earn a living wage don’t have the right product or the right work ethic. In fact, according to a March 2011 article in ArtForum magazine, the artist collective W.A.G.E. states that only 2% of artists live solely off the sale of their work in the commercial marketplace―a figure derived from the Columbia University Research Center for Arts and Culture.

Ninety-eight percent of artists do not earn a living from their art, including the artists whose work Representative Tipton sells at his gallery. He, however, has profited from the skewed gallery retail model that allows him to stock his store with items on consignment. He doesn’t spend a dime for inventory unless it sells. Additionally, his business benefits from its proximity to a major cultural site―Mesa Verde National Park―where cultural tourists stay 50% longer and spend 36% more than regular tourists. Without the national park and the government dollars that fund this cultural site, Tipton wouldn’t have a business.

Cultural tourism is just one of the reasons we must continue to provide government dollars to fund the arts. Nationally, the non-profit arts and culture industry supports 5.7 million jobs and generates $166.2 billion in annual economic activity according to Americans for the Arts. We cannot afford to cut any program or funding that will result in job losses while 13.7 million Americans are out of work. But more importantly, we need to embrace that art is a necessity in life after food, water, and shelter. Humans are compelled to make art; why else have all ancient cultures produced objects of beauty both functional and non?

That is why the Kansas Senate, in a bipartisan vote of 24-13, passed a resolution disapproving of Governor Brownback’s plan to eliminate the Kansas Art Commission. These senators realized that in small towns and big cities, the arts are key to quality of life, that art is valuable as more than just an economic driver.

In the 31 years since Ronald Reagan took office, the National Endowment for the Arts budget has declined 48% (adjusted for inflation) to the current $168 million. In Colorado, we receive about $800,000 from the NEA. Last year, the Creative Industries Division issued 141 grants totaling $1 million, reaching 34 counties across the state. In Pagosa Springs, the Four Corner’s Folk Festival has turned a few thousand dollars in grants into a $2.5 million economic impact for the state and $1.9 million for the town and county. The Creative Industries in Colorado are the fifth largest employment sector in the state. Employment is growing faster in this sector than the labor force as a whole and now makes up 30% of the work force. We need to be investing in this sector, not cutting funding.

The NEA must return to investing in the small-business enterprises known as artists. We have 3 arts administrators for every artist in the U.S. who earn a living wage while only 2 of every 100 artists earn their living making art. Micro-funding and enterprise models like Creative Capital offer innovative approaches to the way we fund the arts. Every great culture has valued their artists. We must do the same.

To send a message to Representative Tipton, be sure to enter a ZIPcode from inside Colorado’s District 3, and contact him here:

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