David Byrne slammed President Donald Trump's proposal to eliminate funding for federal arts agencies, arguing that the meager sums the government spends on such programs yield a remarkable return on investment. Along with the short essay on his website, Byrne spoke out against the proposed budget cuts at a rally in New York City Monday.
Trump's proposed budget for 2018, which was unveiled last month, would cut the the full $741 million spent on the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports PBS and NPR. As Byrne notes, this amounts to "less than one-tenth of one percent of the United States' annual federal spending," yet many hold up the plays and projects arts agencies help fund as proof of wasteful government spending.
"Well, my argument to those skeptics has nothing to do with the quality of the artworks – I might actually agree that some of it is indulgent and silly, but I would argue that there is undeniable and indisputable monetary and social value to the nation as a whole in the publicly funded arts," Byrne says. "It is by far one of the best investments the government can make."
Byrne notes a recent Arts and Economic Prosperity study that showed the non-profit arts generate $135.2 billion in economic activity in the U.S. – a number that jumps significantly when you include the for-profit art sector. Byrne also points to studies that show that art and cultural centers help increase the real estate value of homes and business, and have positive effects on health, safety, education and crime.
"These effects are not just in big cities and mainly for the elites that live in them – this funding goes to small organizations across the country – in thousands of small towns and communities," Byrne says. "To both red and blue states – they all benefit."
While Byrne acknowledges it's unfair to consider the worthiness of art and arts organizations through a purely economic lens, he closes his argument with a plea to the business-minded conservatives in Congress and the White House. "It's probably the best investment the government makes – as far as a means of generating jobs, growth and social good ... surely the businessmen and women in our government can see this and get beyond making silly political points at the expense of the nation, its economy and people."