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Saturday, December 4, 2021

Opinion

UH arts endowment vital to Third Ward


The University of Houston has just received a prestigious “Our Town” grant from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for the Third Ward Arts Initiative.

According to the NEA’s website, this grant, one of 51 around the country, is provided for “creative place-making projects that contribute toward the livability of communities and help transform them into lively, beautiful, and sustainable places with the arts at their core.”

The first goal of the Third Ward Arts Initiative is the “Park at Palm Center,” a new park near Griggs Road and Loop 610 that will feature an educational laboratory and a new-media playground.

Programs like the Third Ward Arts Initiative are vital to communities not only for their obvious revitalization benefits, but also because they create jobs and provide resources to the local economy. Houston is already home to many influential museums, galleries and public installations. If the Third Ward Arts Initiative and other Third Ward revitalization projects succeed in fashioning the area into an arts and cultural center, we can expect to see a significant increase in economic activity.

Despite these social and economic benefits, grants like this will continue to be fewer and farther between. The NEA has been criticized since its inception in 1965 for being frivolous and elitist, but it is neither. The organization was founded to support artistic talent and creativity in our country by awarding grants and fellowships, as well as participating in research and international partnerships. The NEA no longer gives grants to individual artists, but instead focuses grant money on projects like the Our Town initiatives and arts education for youths.

In budget negotiations earlier this year the NEA’s budget was cut 13 percent, and may be cut further in ongoing negotiations. Cuts to cultural programs like the NEA are largely symbolic. Currently, the NEA accounts for 0.005 percent of the total federal budget, and cuts to the arts are dwarfed by increases in military spending and revenue cuts each year. The NEA is too small to have significant impact on the federal budget, but it has a huge impact on our nation. Certainly, a great deal of modern art is funded privately. In fact, only 1 percent of artistic support in the US each year is provided by the NEA.

The private sector supports art and art patronage for the wealthy; the NEA provides programs to beautify dilapidated areas and provide arts programs to children and underserved communities who otherwise would have little or no exposure to the arts at all.

The arts are a vital part of all our lives. The NEA creates jobs, funds projects like our own Third Ward Initiative, supports youth education programs and promotes arts projects for underserved populations.

And, the NEA has provided funding for public projects such as the iconic Vietnam Memorial. The arts are invaluable to our culture and should not be the victim of federal budget cuts.

Emily Brooks is an economics senior and may be reached at [email protected]


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