Thursday, January 15, 2009

Stimulate Me

It's 18 degrees out and there is NO HEAT in my apartment. I'm wearing two sweaters and hugging a hot water bottle. The cat refuses to budge from the under the covers on the bed.

Sunday, we're going to DC for the inauguration and I'm really excited about it, especially after reading Obama's DREAMS FROM MY FATHER, a beautifully written memoir that really inspired a lot of hope in me for our President Elect. Just the very fact that he lived in a walk-up tenement in East Harlem in the early 1980s is wonderful. I mean, can you imagine Clinton or Bush or Carter or any prior president having that kind of history? I doubt if Clinton or Bush have ever even BEEN in a walk-up tenement.

So now I'm wondering if there is any hope for some arts funding from the US government with Obama in charge. In the memoir I just read, there's a very moving description of a Chicago performance of Ntoshake Shange's FOR COLORED GIRLS, which might be well known among theater aficionados and students of African-American literature, but it certainly isn't any big splashy Broadway-style play - it's in verse and doesn't even have a narrative - so maybe, just maybe, the guy has an appreciation for small-scale experimental arts and there is hope for an Arts Stimulus Plan?

The Institute for Policy Studies describes a plan for 1% of the Economic Stimulus Package to be used for the arts. With estimates for the stimulus plan running from $600 billion to $850 billion, 1% would provide an influx of $6-$8.5 billion to the arts. The thought makes me want to run up and down the room shouting in joy. What a relief it would be to not have to choose between making art and making rent. At least for a few years. How wonderful it would be for public art projects, arts in schools, historical archiving, small theater companies and libraries to get some economic acknowledgment after years of tightening the already-excruciatingly-tight belt. There's an online petition for the 1% idea that about 4,000 people have signed at iPetition including Barbara Ehrenreich, one of my heroes. Not sure whether an online petition will really be effective, but it can't hurt. And if you're stuck in a life-sucking job staring at a computer listlessly most of the day, you can be even more effective by actually writing or calling your congress person More great ideas are at Sarah Browning's blog.

I also really love this article in Truthout Yes, We Can Make the Stimulus More Stimulating where Dean Baker proposes some beautiful measures to make the stimulus plan more effective. Number 5 is Funding for Writers/Artists/Creative Workers:
In the New Deal there was both a federal arts project and a federal writers project. These programs employed thousands of young artists and writers. A creative stimulus package can extend this idea for the Internet Age. Suppose that President Obama made $10 billion a year available for state and local governments to support various types of creative and artistic work. This could include music, movies, writing books, even journalism. The one condition for support is that all material be made freely available in the public domain....

This funding would be sufficient to employ 200,000 people a year at an average of $50,000 each. This would put an enormous amount of creative work in the public domain that people all over the world could download at zero cost. In the first year or two, we could have this program administered through public agencies, but in later years we can have people choose for themselves which work they want to support through a tax credit. The cost would be approximately $10 billion a year.
And number 7 in the article, Pay for Shorter Work Weeks and More Vacations, is even more radical:
The United States lags the rest of world in that its workers are not guaranteed any vacation time, sick leave or family and parental leave. In Europe, five or six weeks a year of paid vacation is standard. Also, all West European countries guarantee their workers some amount of paid sick leave and paid parental leave.
Arts and vacation in the US - how civilized! I'm going to email everyone I know and then run up and down the room shouting in joy. Just to get a little warmer.

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