"Beauty is Truth, Truth Beauty" - Why the Arts and Humanities are Vital
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Earlier this month, President Trump announced that he was possibly planning to cut government funding National Endowments for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Christopher Hooten of The Independent reported that these cuts will amount to “just 0.0625% of the projected $4 trillion budget.” Fortune’s Grace Donnelly shays the arts contribute 4.2% of the US’s GDP and is a $704 billion industry that employs over 4.5 million people.
Somewhat disheartening for proponents of creativity, arts and humanities have failed to take precedence in the government for some time, and President Trump’s priorities are not new. In 2014, the NEH summarized an American Academy of Arts and Sciences report, which stated that “total funding for humanities . . . in the U.S. [was] still below pre-recession levels.”
Donnelly wrote later in her article from January of this year that “their [NHA] funding is 14 percent lower than in 2010, a $21.5 million drop to $146 million in 2015.” This trend is not solely limited to the US economy; in September of 2015, Alex Dean of The Guardian reported cuts in Japanese and British humanities programs as well.
Faculty across Westmont’s arts and humanities departments strongly believe in the importance of these subjects. Art Department Chair Lisa DeBoer believes that art should be preserved because of its value beyond money. “The arts document important events,” says Dr. DeBoer. “They help represent our affiliations. They help us remember and commemorate our history, and they help us worship.”
The NEA and NEH plays an important role in the art world, encouraging small local art programs as well as bringing foreign art to the US so citizens do not have to travel to view it. She also stressed how helpful it is in research to be endorsed in part by the NEH. In her new book, The Visual Arts in the Worshiping Church, Dr. DeBoer analyzes how the comparatively small amount of funding that the government gives to the Arts and Humanities “can give an organization tremendous legitimacy.”
Dr. Michael Shasberger, Music Department Chair, says the arts “represent some of the most lasting and powerful expressions of our intellect, passion, creativity, striving for community and seeking after the divine qualities of creation.”
He also focuses on the importance of music as a means of worshipping God and as a precursor to our forthcoming worship in heaven. He encourages to “respond to a higher calling and dedicate ourselves to the creation and preservation of that which is worthy of our highest aspirations.”
Dr. Shasberger pointed out that in the history of the arts, government funding actually suppressed the creativity of Mozart, and would have kept religious works of Bach and Michelangelo from being produced. He stresses the freedom individuals and foundations have to produce work outside of government restrictions, and encourages people to continue to publicly speak up about and to pray for the Arts.
Professor Elizabeth Hess, of the English department and with a background in Theatre, shares that literature and theatre “inculcate compassion and broaden our appreciation of difference.” The art of storytelling, on both page and stage, enables us to both share personal stories and learn about the stories of others, according to Prof. Hess. Through it, “we equip ourselves to respond to a needy world with grace through careful, appreciative, and empathetic study of those stories we encounter in the arts.”
The importance of arts and humanities does not solely affect Christian liberal arts college students. Ms. Kelly Savio, an English teacher at Dos Pueblos High School in Goleta, echoed some of Prof. Hess’s sentiments, stressing literature’s ability to help readers “gain empathy, understanding, a vicarious life experience, and a new way of looking at the world.
President Trump’s decision particularly hinders funding for programs such as the Big Read, which ensures that every communitin the United States has access to literature. Kevin Gleason, an art teacher at Dos Pueblos High School, believes the arts are important because they “teach us to flip the screen and be creators rather than just consumers of products and information,” ending with the sentiment that artistic expression can be “revolutionary.”