Mayors on Capitol Hill to Fight for Arts
Call for Cabinet Level Arts Position
By Mike Brown and Tom McClimon
On Wednesday, September 10, a delegation of mayors led by New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial, Chair of the Conference’s Committee on Arts, Culture and Recreation, went to the U.S. Capitol to lobby in support of the National Endowment for the Arts. Mayor Morial was joined by St. Louis Mayor Clarence Harmon, Rock Hill Mayor Elizabeth Rhea, Palatine Mayor Rita Mullins and Pasadena (CA) Mayor Chris Holden.
Mayor Morial suggested that because of the importance of art, culture and music to the nation, it may be time to consider the establishment of a cabinet-level position to oversee federal investments in these areas.
Speaking at a Capitol Hill press conference, Mayor Morial called on members of Congress to remember that the great civilizations and great nations of the world - the Greeks, Romans, Ethiopians, Incas, Mayans, Aztecs and others - gave their people art, culture and technology. "I believe that the United States is a great civilization, a great nation of people," Morial said. "To invest in culture, to invest in art, to invest in music when it leverages up, when it makes good sense, when it produces jobs, when it heals kids and when it heals communities, is something we must continue to do. We may be at the point where we need to look at a cabinet-level position committed to culture."
Morial said that while the mayors were not "forcefully" advocating such a position today, "We as Americans have to recognize that this is no trivial matter, that this is an important issue.
"We feel that the states and the local governments, the non-profit sector and the private sector already carry a heavy burden. Sometimes it’s chic, it’s in vogue, to say ‘let the private sector handle it, let the states handle it, let the cities handle it.’ We’re already carrying the heavy burden in this area and we’re saying that our national government ought to partner with us to continue the kinds of programs that we have."
Echoing Mayor Morial’s support for a cabinet level arts position, St. Louis Mayor Harmon stated, "We are one of the few countries in the world that doesn’t have such a position and we consider ourselves foremost in the world."
Mayor Morial said that while the NEA represents the national government’s commitment to the art and culture in this country, it represents a small part of the overall investment in these areas. "The budget of the NEA, currently at $99.5 million, is small in comparison to what state and local governments do," said Morial. "Our figures show that state and local governments contribute more than three-quarters of a billion dollars to the arts." Comparing Washington’s investment with that of other developed nations such as France, Spain, Great Britain, Australia and Germany, Morial said, "I feel very strongly that $99 million or $100 million is not enough."
Mayor Morial stated that mayors endorse the Senators James M. Jeffords(VT) and Edward M. Kennedy(MA) bill for reauthorization of the NEA for a five-year period and which, among other things, would allow for an increase in the block grant funding level to the states. However, he noted that mayors "are opposed to any further increases" in block granting of NEA funds above the 40 percent level as contained in the Jeffords-Kennedy bill.
In her remarks, Mayor Mullins stressed the importance that the arts play in the nation’s tourism industry and life of communities. "We are calling upon Congress to consider, as we enter the next Millennium, that art and culture have an economic impact and that we, as a society and nation, cannot allow the federal government’s support of the arts to go by the wayside."
Stating that the arts "help make a community whole," Mayor Elizabeth Rhea talked about the importance that the arts have played in her city’s revitalization. Recalling how her city dealt with the closure of 12 textile mills, Mayor Rhea stated, "We used the arts to help turn our city around to where, today, we have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the state and one of the highest income levels. Our new arts center, which received support from the NEA, helped to bring new businesses and people to our community."
In his community of Pasadena, according to Mayor Chris Holden, the arts have been used to improve the lives of its citizens. "While we may be one of the best known cities in the world, we are also one of the most culturally diverse cities, and we have used the arts to work with our young people and senior citizens," stated Mayor Holden.
Joining the mayors in the press conference were House Minority Leader Richard Gephardt (MO) and the Chair of the Congressional Member Organization for the Arts, Rep. Louise Slaughter (NY), both of whom are working for passage of the NEA budget for the next fiscal year. Robert Lynch, President of Americans for the Arts, also spoke on the importance the arts play in communities.
The mayors were also joined by members of Circus Flora, a theater company specializing in the ensemble one-ring circus, who entertained before the press briefing. Currently at the Kennedy Center, Circus Flora is an example of an organization that has received NEA funding to further its artistic development and expand outreach programs for inner-city and Native American children.
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