Then and now, the ongoing importance of government support for the arts

Posted on: January 15, 2021

“In 1935, during the depths of the Great Depression, President Franklin Roosevelt unveiled the Works Progress Administration, a hugely ambitious initiative to use the economic might of the federal government to boost employment,” writes Joshua Kosman in Tuesday’s (1/12) San Francisco Chronicle. “On the payroll were tens of thousands of artists—painters, writers, composers, performing musicians, theater directors and more. Why? Because the arts, too, are part of the nation’s critical infrastructure…. Music, literature, dance, the visual arts—all of these activities exist right at the heart of what it means to be human…. For help in understanding what it means to live the way we live now—from the quotidian details to the overarching themes—only the arts will serve…. It is incumbent on the government to lend its support. The rationale for the WPA’s arts programs may have been primarily economic … but its cultural impact was enormous. It bequeathed us a wealth of public art, music, literature and cultural knowledge that continues to delight us today. Maybe another way to say it is that art, in addition to all its other virtues, is an economic multiplier. The dollar we invest today repays us, and our descendants, a thousandfold.”