We live in exasperating times. With a let’s-make-a-deal president in charge, what’s ensued is a frightening roller coaster ride of deceit, corruption, and incompetency. There’s a long list of substantial failures, including health care reform, the deregulation of Wall Street and environmental controls, hateful immigration ploys, the alienation of world allies—need I go on? Trump is sometimes a demagogue, often an oligarch, and always a plutocrat. He has no sense of, or interest in, history or the social sciences. He lacks feeling for how his actions impact people. This brew of ineptitudes is spiraling relative normalcy out of control. But historically, we’ve been in the danger zone before.
I’m old enough to remember the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis and the thirteen days of deep fear knowing that armed Soviet Union missiles were within striking distance of my world on Long Island, New York. That sense of the bottom falling out of life has returned, exacerbated by a twenty-four-hour news cycle coupled with relentless social media activity. Harkening back to the inspiring force of the iconic civil rights song, “We Shall Overcome,” I remain confident that the country will get through these vexing times; it’s just a matter of how much damage Trump will inflict on us.
Case in Point: President Trump’s Proposed Budget Cuts
Amid the current madness are punitive government budgetary priorities. Putting a finer focus on the point, Trump’s proposed budget plan takes devastating shots at—of all things—the arts. As reported by the Washington Post, the budget plan calls for the elimination of four independent cultural agencies on the basis that they don’t deserve federal dollars:
- The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
- The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH)
- The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)
- The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPC)
The immeasurable harm to these programs is summarized in a quote from the Washington Post article.
“The Corporation for Public Broadcasting money is actually crucial to keeping stations alive,” said Patricia Aufderheide, founder of the Center for Media and Social Impact at American University. “That is what pays for the electric bill, that is what pays for upgrades in the equipment. Without that money, I think there are very few stations that are going to operate purely on donations.”
Now we see the foundation for the point of this blog post: the importance of the arts for human beings. In my search to find a good synopsis of why art is so important to society, I came across this statement by Michelle Gaugy on the Quora website that embraces basic humanistic values:
There are many reasons that art is important—but two stand out as primary. The first is that art is one of the only four ways in which a human being can have an unmediated experience with those essential things that are beyond description in words. These things include love and faith and hope, which are among the most critical and meaningful aspects of the human experience, but are totally incapable of being fully expressed in words.
Weigh this quote against the budgetary cuts in the Trump administration’s tax plan, an administration that turns its back on supporting the arts in all its forms and expressions. Heartless governing is obscene and has been a recurring theme since Trump was sworn into office.
Counterpoint: Governor Jerry Brown’s Healthy Perspective about the Arts for Inmates
Welcome to the Arts in Corrections program. According to the California Arts Council, “Arts in Corrections is a partnership between CDRC [the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation] and the California Arts Council to combat recidivism, enhance rehabilitative goals, and improve the safety and environment of state prisons.” This refreshing prison reform perspective is supported by Governor Jerry Brown and is an example of the polemic view of the importance of art by Brown contrasted to that of Trump.
“In partnership with CDCR, the California Arts Council has contracted with ten organizations to provide rehabilitative arts services in state correctional facilities.” Each organization provides services that stimulate creativity and imagination to the thirty-four prisons in the state. You can learn more about each organization’s hands-on prison reform art programs from the following websites:
Actors’ Gang—Los Angeles, CA
Dance Kaiso—San Francisco, CA
Fresno Arts Council—Fresno, CA
Inside Out Writers—Los Angeles, CA
Marin Shakespeare Company—San Rafael, CA
Muckenthaler Cultural Center—Fullerton, CA
Strindberg Laboratory—Los Angeles, CA
William James Association—Santa Cruz, CA
Funding for the Arts in Corrections program
As reported by the New York Times, “In a political climate in which federal arts agencies are under siege, the state [of California] has allocated $6 million annually for the Arts in Corrections program, a figure set to rise to $8 million next year.” The Times article—which has great photos of inmates’ artistic work—goes on to quote one expert’s opinion of the effectiveness of the program:
There is little scientific data to support arts programming in reducing recidivism, but Susan Turner, a professor of criminology, law and society at the University of California, Irvine, is evaluating the state’s new initiative for the William James Association, a nonprofit specializing in arts programs in nontraditional settings, to assess whether it positively affects resilience and self-awareness and if so, why. “Art resonates,” she said. “People want to believe that the arts make a difference.”
I see no downside to California’s arts program. It was instituted in 2011, six years after I left the CDCR system after serving time in Ironwood State Prison. Had there been programs of the sort at that time, I know they would have been popular with inmates. So many inmates would have had a vehicle for expressing their natural and developing talents instead of experiencing the repressive, forced boredom that often led to nefarious conduct. Scientific data is not necessary to prove the positive impact of the arts on inmates—just common sense. If you have any doubts, watch this clip from The Actors’ Gang Prison Project recorded at the California Institution for Men in 2015.
My exasperation over what the federal government has targeted to remove from the public good is tamed by insightful and human needs–based prison reform programs such as California’s Arts in Corrections program. The polemics of Trump’s and Brown’s approaches is cause for everyone’s attention and action.
Your comments and suggestions are always welcome.
Image courtesy of 123.rf