Georgia Republican Saying Arts Workers Aren’t “Real People” Hits Nerve

From a Boston Globe article, “Stimulus funding for arts hits nerve”:

Representative Jack Kingston, a Georgia Republican, wants to transfer the proposed NEA funding to highway construction. He failed to get the House to vote on his proposal, so he is now trying to get on the conference committee that will determine the fate of the funding. “We have real people out of work right now and putting $50 million in the NEA and pretending that’s going to save jobs as opposed to putting $50 million in a road project is disingenuous,” Kingston said in an interview yesterday, adding the time has come to examine all of NEA’s funding.

It’s funny how, a few months ago, a city’s economic viability was measured by its ability to attract and keep workers in the “creative economy,” a definition which has the arts as a core, but extends far beyond the narrowestm, NEA definition of the term. And museums and other cultural institutions always made the case for themselves by demonstrating the high ROI that every dollar spent on culture generated for the local economy.
And where is any of this analysis and advocacy now, when at least one congressman says arts workers aren’t even “real people,” and shouldn’t be subsidized by the government at all? This from a politician who defines his district by its [government-funded] military base and its relevance to cultural production? [Fourth of four points: “The First District has also a been a background for top films including Academy Award Winning Best Picture Forrest Gump…”]?
I thought the $50 million stimulus proposed for the NEA was embarrassingly low, and I expected arts institutions to be contacting their congressional delegations to explain their supposedly dire financial situations, and umbrella organizations would make the case for emergency stopgap funding to keep performing arts organizations alive until the economy improves. Where has that been?

Dana Gioia, a poet who was NEA chairman until last month, recalled that when top Roosevelt aide Harry Hopkins was asked why the government wanted to hire so many artists and writers, he replied, “Hell, they’ve got to eat just like other people.”
Gioia, reflecting on that comment, said, “As far as I’ve heard, nothing has changed about the dietary needs of artists.”

Gee, with powerful, articulate advocacy like that, I guess I needn’t have worried.