How Federal Budget Cuts Affect Equity in the Arts

April 16, 2017

In the midst of what has been a turbulent first few months of a new presidential administration, it has been reported that the administration has a proposal to cut arts and humanities funding, while ceasing the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Although many noteworthy figures in arts, media, and education have spoken against cutting arts funding from the federal budget, it has unfortunately been a common practice in government to slash arts funding first in times of financial strife.


In a world that emphasizes standardization and measurement to identify student success, art is immeasurable; therefore, untrustworthy as a source of assessment. Art is seen as not being rooted in fact, but rather draws on the emotion and expression of the artist. Our society becomes uncomfortable when we cannot quantify something or put it on a scale, leaving little to no room for creativity in classroom spaces or on the world stage. 


Art is often painted as a feminine area, rather than a place of power and prestige. Art serves as a space where students can express themselves and develop interests where they’re free from gender and racial constructs. The arts are not valued because American society is a masculine society where the arts are regarded as a “soft” subject where the creation and analysis is rooted in emotion and expression. When we take away monetary value from art, we are telling and showing students that their form of expression is not valuable. 



For me, there is no feeling in the world greater than that of the rush as the music swells. I run to center stage, and thunderous applause ripples through the stage into my body. As a woman of color, I have tried to shrink myself to simply fit the rigid societal standards of Black womanhood. I was afraid of being too loud and too proud. With the transformative power of dance, I am able to stretch myself and make myself physically larger as an act of empowerment. My voice and my story is spoken in combined eight counts of rhythmic contracts and releases of my muscle fibers. For many girls of color, we express ourselves through movement, as it provides a physical space to give way to the utterance of words that are too complex to string into a coherent sentence of the human language. 


When teaching visual or performing arts, the feminist teaching framework replaces self-hatred with self-love for girls of color. The art form of dance constantly challenges students to look in the mirror, embrace their bodies, and counteract negative projections. Stories are told through art. Stories of fury and disappointment in systems that are supposed to protect the people they serve, stories of the pain and agony of physical violence and the encroachment of bodies, and stories of trying to navigate a line of ‘too much’ and ‘not enough.’ Where words may fail girls of color in fighting for social justice, art can fill the space. 


Arts education aids in the holistic development of girls of color. According to Americans for the Arts, students involved in arts education programs earn higher GPAs and standardized test scores, have lower rates of dropping out, and better attitudes about community service, regardless of socioeconomic status. However, access to arts education for Black and Hispanic students is significantly lower than access for their White counterparts, which has continued to decline over the past three decades. Even more, cuts in arts education are the most severe in underserved populations. Where does this leave girls of color, whose experiences lie at the intersections of race, gender, and sometimes class and sexuality? 


Arts and culture can lead children to be civically involved not only in their classrooms, and in extracurricular activities, but on a communal scale. The classroom is a microcosm of society in that it is the first place where individuals are a part of a community and learn how to work cohesively as a functioning body. Art allows one to recognize personal responsibility and responsibility to peers and community. Art education doesn't just aid in the production of more art, but the creativity and critical thinking exercised in an art classroom translates to other academic subjects and essential skills needed to thrive in today's advancing workforce. Arts education is about finding one thing that gives affords a sense of agency and using that  to make a mark on the world. Art provides a space for personal voice to be a part of the learning process. When girls can effectively present and portray their ideas and emotions, they acquire an inner self-confidence that can lead to success. Arts education can enable girls of color to question authority, question their stance in the world and use the quest for answers as a stepping stone to societal change. It evokes an awareness of self and the world. 


To make greater progress towards equality, we have to open up the equity in range of choices girls of color have throughout their lives and reinforce how important their insights are. This means equipping them with the tools necessary to hone their talents, but also the equity necessary to even recognize those talents are present. Those who are making the decisions about arts funding are often those who experiences do not reflect the populations that lack exposure and opportunity in the arts. This perpetuates the continuous cycle of lack of diversity in the art sector. When we cut arts funding from the federal budget, we deny the next generation of future leaders opportunities to be empowered to use their voices and talents to create the change we need in our world. 

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© 2017 by Cierra Kaler-Jones