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In defense of the arts

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In defense of the arts

The National Endowment for the Arts may soon be comparing notes with the Affordable Care Act, forgotten on the midden of history. They will have a lot to talk about. Both will have died because they were seen as elitist forms of social welfare, and the GOP has been trying to defund them both since their creation. Reagan tried to defund the NEA in 1981, but gave up after hitting congressional resistance, something the current president will not have. In 1994, Newt Gingrich failed to eliminate the NEA entirely, but he succeeded in laying the ground work for budget cuts and restrictions on the endowment's ability to provide grants to individual artists — all concessions he won from President Clinton during budget negotiations in '96. For the last 60 years these attempts to defund the NEA have been based on the same foundation of disingenuous and willful misconceptions about the role and power of the arts in American society.

With its 2016 budget of $148 million the NEA sounds expensive, but let's keep in mind that this is less than 1/4 of the money raised by the Drumpf Campaign in 2016, and less than one 26,000th of the $3.9 trillion national budget. People who assign numerical values to things often find the arts frivolous, wasteful government spending, something with no material value. But consider this: Between 1966 and 2015 the NEA disbursed $268 million to various American dance companies. Among the organizations they funded was a little known group, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Company. Today the Ailey Company has performed for over 25 million people, both in the United States and as a cultural ambassador to audiences around the planet. The NEA funded Martha Graham and Paul Taylor, both of which became institutions of American culture. They, along with the scores of other companies funded by the NEA, helped to foster a tradition of American creativity and expression, as well as establishing dance as an irrefutable facet of American identity. When American dance companies perform abroad, people of other nations sit and watch as our freedom unfolds before their eyes. 

The benefits of the NEA are not limited to foreigners' opinions of America, or their valuation of freedom. In 2013, I moved from Maryland to Little Rock to work for Ballet Arkansas, a company funded in part by the NEA through the Arkansas Arts Council. Through the Little Rock Creative Corridor project, we are participating in the effort to vitalize the local economy through the arts. This is a model that cities like Louisville, Ky., and Ashville, N.C., have proved successful. Indeed, the fact that the arts stimulate the economy is so obvious that it is enshrined in our language: dinner and a show. People who do not see the value in the NEA often make claims such as "the NEA keeps private individuals from donating to the arts" or "if we cut funding to the NEA private individuals will make up the difference through donations" or even "the NEA is welfare for the cultural elitists." These are tired, if well-rehearsed, arguments that pundits will defend with endless strings of statistics. It is true that defunding the NEA would not kill the arts in America overnight, but this is a shortsighted view.

As a career art professional, let explain how fundraising works to the think-tank elite who have never had to raise a dime. In any city there are a certain number of people who can be convinced to donate up to a certain amount to your organization. This number doesn't change drastically from year to year, and many people who donate to one organization also donate to others. If you remove government funding for the arts from the picture, local arts organizations are left fighting to make up the difference in their funding from the same pool of donors. Not only does the NEA fund performance organizations, it also offers grants to venues that hire performance organizations. Faced with both direct and indirect losses of funding, and unable to make up the difference competing with each other for donations, many smaller arts organizations would, over time, be forced to close their doors, taking the jobs they provide and the economic benefits that they bring with them.

Arguments over government funding of the arts go back to the founding of our nation, but never have the consequences been so dire. At its core, what the NEA supports is the most fundamental of American values: freedom. Not just the derivative freedoms of speech and assembly, but freedom of thought. No one can tell artists what to think, and no one can tell you what to think about art. This makes it dangerous to dictators. The defunding of the arts is the first step on the stairway of censorship. A government that controls the voices of its artists is a government that muzzles the conscience of a nation. 

Call your representatives right now.

Justin Rustle

Little Rock

Landlord-tenant laws need to be changed

Unfortunately for one-third of the homes in the state, Arkansas is the only state to lack an implied warranty of habitability in their landlord-tenant laws. An implied warranty of habitability guarantees the tenant that the housing unit is "habitable" and will remain so. Unless the lease agreement specifies what the landlord is to maintain and repair, landlords are under no legal obligation to keep their property in livable conditions because the law does not require them to do so.

The landlord-tenant laws in Arkansas offer no protection to renters. In addition to the lack of the warranty of habitability, Arkansas is the only state to have a "failure to vacate" law. This law creates criminal penalties for tenants who not pay the rent on time, and gives tenants only 10 days to move out. A late payment is a breach in a civil contract; however, Arkansas is the only state to criminalize a civil contract breach. A civil contract breach requires compensation, not jail time.

While the law is there to protect landlords from freeloaders and property damage, the law protects the landlords at the cost of the tenants' living conditions and protection. The Arkansas landlord-tenant laws need to be amended to include an implied warranty of habitability and remove the "failure to vacate" statute.

Katherine Evans

Bryant

[Editor's note: Several circuit courts around the state have found the failure to vacate criminal statute unconstitutional].

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