But even setting aside such utilitarian justifications for supporting the arts and humanities, these enterprises are essential to human fulfillment. People can and do live lives devoid of art, music, theater, and a sense of history or purpose. But they do not do so by choice. Certainly, these are not the lives that rich people choose for themselves.
If this decision is really about money, then let’s be honest about where we stand: the United States is not a poor country and there is no shortage of resources. But automation, digitization, and some good old-fashioned cronyism mean that an ever-smaller number of people capture and control our nation’s wealth. We have become a country of tremendous income inequality with 1 percent of the population possessing roughly 30 percent of the wealth. This 1 percent can already afford all the nice artwork, music, theater, books and exhibits that money can buy. Indeed, they buy plenty of it for themselves and their kids.
Instead of cutting arts and humanities programs, why not invest in America’s creative and intellectual potential? Why not assist our educators in learning more about their world and ways to improve it so that they might teach our children how to do the same? Why not subsidize arts programming for all Americans so that the next sculptor or novelist or cello virtuoso might be a working-class kid from Ohio? And why not do it by demanding that the Trump administration not only protect but expand the NEH and the NEA?
Valerie Stoker, Ph.D., teaches religion and directs the Master of Humanities Program at Wright State University.