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Bob Sojka

A great thing about Idaho is the variety and gusto of our community life. Twelve months a year in almost any corner of Idaho you can delight in the unique élan offered up by civic organizations through activities, lectures, concerts, craft fairs and all manner of enrichment education for young and old. Friday and Saturday, Twin Falls residents and visitors will enjoy our annual Art in the Park festival. There’ll be wine-tasting and jazz 5-8 p.m. Friday evening and a special half-day of Kids’ Art in the Park Saturday beginning at 8:45 a.m. The rest of Saturday will offer a host of activities for all ages: food, music, arts and crafts.

Twin Falls’ elementary, middle and high schools all enhance their students’ lives through music, creative writing and the performing, tactile and visual arts. It doesn’t stop there. CSI has similar robust programs. For many students elective classes are the magnetism that keeps students drawn toward their overall educations. For adults and seniors, attending their children’s programs and exhibitions are a major component of their lives. Much of CSI’s adult enrichment programing is geared toward improving adult and senior lives for enjoyment or new earning opportunities through development of art and craft talents and skills.

Our schools and college interact intimately with The Magic Valley Arts Council and other art-oriented organizations. Our community’s sizeable involvement in and even dependence upon art is often overlooked because it is so deeply woven into the fabric of our lives. Yet, art is as much a part of communication, commerce and industry as industry, commerce and communication are integral to art.

Humanity’s greatest minds have underscored art’s essentiality to civilization. Historians, anthropologists and sociologists generally agree that, after the struggle to survive, protect and provide comfort to ourselves and families, the next priority is largely recognized as our pursuit of art and culture in their broadest definitions.

Winston Churchill’s response to calls for art budget cuts to fund the war was reportedly, “Then what are we fighting for?” Echoing Friedrich Schiller’s declaration “Art is the daughter of freedom.” Albert Einstein implicitly linked art and creativity, stating, “Logic will get you from A to B. Imagination will take you everywhere.” Steve Jobs famously said, “It is in Apple’s DNA that technology alone is not enough — it’s technology married with liberal arts, married with the humanities, that yields us the results that make our heart sing.”

The vitality of the arts in Idaho and nationwide have been threatened for years under Republican-controlled congresses or Republican presidents. This year’s threat was direr than in the past, given complete Republican control of both houses of Congress and the White House. The president’s budget initially proposed complete defunding of the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Institute of Museum and Library Services. Also threatened was funding for the Smithsonian Institute and National Museum for the Arts.

This would have been one of the most cynical ideologically driven budget amputations in modern history. The outrageousness stems both from its clear political targeting of intellectual expression, which, lamentably, congressional Republicans have long regarded as a threat, and secondly because of the insignificance the cuts would have on the federal budget or deficit. These four organizations combined cost a mere $971 million (0.025 percent) of 2016’s $3.899 trillion federal budget. That’s 0.09 percent of the $1.1 trillion discretionary portion of the federal budget. Putting this in perspective, 2016’s annual NEA budget was $148 million — approximately the same estimated cost of providing security for New York’s Trump Tower.

Fortunately, this spring’s negotiations to prevent a government shutdown reached a budget compromise keeping these organizations funded with tiny short-term budget increases. This stopgap political victory, however, should serve as a warning to Idahoans — yes, Idahoans.

The outrageousness of these proposals drew international attention. Many developed countries provide comparatively generous public arts funding. I enjoyed the benefits of this approach while living in New Zealand and Australia briefly in the 1990s.

“The Guardian,” an English paper, took note of Idaho’s potential plight in a June 7 story detailing how our state would be affected if draconian cuts are re-introduced in the next budget. Last year Idaho received $822,000 from NEA. The Idaho Commission on the Arts received $787,000 — the balance going to several small local grants. Our predominately Republican legislature added $810,000 of arts funding. That foresight deserves acknowledgement, but should also be recognized as a pretty lean allocation for an endeavor documented to have a 65-times economic multiplier effect on local economies (according to figures shared by Stuart Weiser, deputy director of The Idaho Commission on the Arts).

In 2010 that multiplier produced an economic impact of America’s nonprofit arts totaling $135 billion. Very few government investments produce double-digit multipliers, let alone 65-to-1. Imagine the economic stimulus if Idaho doubled or tripled its investment in the arts? A 65-to-1 multiplier literally pays for itself and then some in under a year via revenues returned from the stimulus. That’s not trickle-down economics; it’s gusher outward economics with a potential to add revenues without increased taxation. It’s also the kind of investment that attracts businesses and industry to settle in Idaho.

I encourage you to join the fun at Art in the Park this weekend. While your family enjoys itself, consider contacting your state and federal representatives. Tell them how important art is to Idaho’s quality of life and economy. Encourage them to read up on the economics of art, and increase public investment in Idaho arts beginning with next year’s budget.

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Bob Sojka is the communications officer for the Twin Falls County Democratic Party and a former county chairman.

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