GOP War on the Arts Bad for Culture and County Ecomonics

Modern Day Community Crafted Totem at West Linn Public Library

The Clackamas tribe of the Chinook and their forebearers have occupied this county for at least 11,000 years and perhaps more than 20,000. What remains of their lives are their myths, their art, and their diet.

This is not unusual. Most cultures are remembered by their art, from the earliest cave painting in El Castillo in northern Spain dated at over 48,000 years old, to totem poles and canoes from Pacific Northwest tribes such as the Clackamas. Likewise, our lives and our place in history will be remembered by our contribution to art — be it creation myths, physical manifestations, or a view of our place in the world.

That’s the standard liberal take on the arts. Here’s a different approach.

“Watermelon and Pears” by Oregon City Artist Holly Kroening

In Clackamas County, the $20,000 or so in seed money that comes into our economy, ultimately sourced from the National Endowment for the Arts, is leveraged by private non-profit donors and others to be about $ 95,000.

But it doesn’t stop there, because this money forms the foundation that enables thousands of Clackamas artists to make a living from their art. It’s the economic concepts of risk thresholds and margins. Without this foundational money, they wouldn’t be able to market, create, or do any of the other functions that enable them to succeed. Most bankers won’t take a picture, or a play, or an oral history performance as collateral. Yet, with other money standing first in line, the risk is reduced for all.

“Aeschylus and Plato are remembered today long after the triumphs of Imperial Athens are gone. Dante outlived the ambitions of thirteenth century Florence. Goethe stands serenely above the politics of Germany, and I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over cities, we too will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”

– John F. Kennedy

On any given day for any business, the difference between success and failure is $1.00. It’s the dollar that puts them in the green. The dollar that is left after all other costs are paid. It’s the dollar that enables them to do it all over again tomorrow. Being able to consistently guarantee that the dollar will be there is what makes the marginal difference.

The Clackamas County Arts Alliance is in the process of conducting a study to better understand the employment consequences of the “creative” industries. In 2011, they knew that there were more than 1,300 creative business employing directly more than 15,000 artists.

Live Theater at the Lakewood Center for the Arts, Lake Oswego

Not only are there direct economic positive consequences for the county’s share of this type of employment, but it also has spillover effects into the tourism industry as well. Look no further than Ashland to see how the arts can drive a local economy.

Yet, the Republican Congress can only see the arts as part of bigoted culture wars where artistic content is judged through their narrow sense of value and what they think needs to be controlled. So, Trump and Congress have promised to eliminate these programs.

It will not make the government any richer, and it will make all of our lives in Clackamas County so much poorer.