Claim: Nations should suspend government funding for the arts when significant numbers of their citizens are hungry or unemployed.
Reason: It is inappropriate — and, perhaps, even cruel — to use public resources to fund the arts when people's basic needs are not being met.
Write a response in which you discuss the extent to which you agree or disagree with the claim and the reason on which that claim is based.
Should nations suspend government funding for the arts when the significant population is still suffering from hunger and unemployment? While certain people agree that governments should stop allocating public resources to fund the arts, I think arts still deserve government funding because (1) arts are indeed basic human needs and (2) funding arts has considerable social benefits.
Those who oppose government funding during the time of uncertainties may base their argument on the reason that when people’s basic needs are not met, it is cruel and inappropriate to use public resources to fund art programs. Here, the underlying assumption is that arts, unlike food and shelter, are not the part of basic human needs. This school of thought can best be demonstrated by the theory of hierarchical needs first proposed by Maslow. In this theory, it is argued that only after fulfilling the most fundamental needs such as food and water can one pursue higher needs. Therefore, if we acknowledge the exclusion of arts from basic human needs, the policy proposal to stop funding for the arts during famine and economic downturn is certainly reasonable.
However, the lines of reasoning discussed above is built upon the critical assumption that basic human needs do not involve arts. This is a claim that I cannot fully agree. Rather, I consider the arts as an essential part of basic human needs from at least two perspectives. First, people have the intrinsic desire to express themselves. One way of such expressions is by the creation of arts, which convey emotional messages. Therefore, to stop funding the arts is to suppress the expression of public opinion, which is why in books and movies depicting utopias such as George Orwell’s 1984, the expression of arts is commonly prohibited. On the other hand, from a viewer’s perspective arts are still a basic need, because the pursuit of beauty constitutes another layer of human desire. While it is true that our physical body needs food and water to survive, our spirit needs arts to flourish. As a result, since both the creation and the appreciation of arts are part of our unalienable basic needs, one cannot deny the funding for the arts by claiming other basic needs deserve higher priority.
In addition to personal utilities, sponsoring arts actually has a considerable number of social benefits. First by promoting arts, society can benefit from economic gains and people would have more employment opportunities. During the Great Recessions in the 1930s, the United States government initiated the Federal Art Projects, which was designed to boost economy by building community art centers and funding rural art projects. Similarly, today the rejuvenation of the inner cities in the United States often begin with art projects that attract talents and tourists to visit what used to be a semi-ghost town that is rife with crime and violence. Second, another function of arts is to create a unified identity among citizens. Hence, governments can take advantage of art programs to boost the morale of a society, and an optimistic outlook is something precious in troubled times. Here the best example is the United States in the 1960s, where people were living under the fear of the Cold War and became increasingly frustrated by the prolonged Vietnam War. To boost the spirit of the United States society, the Kennedy administration launched the National Endowment for Arts. Thanks to the endowment, a large number of art projects were funded and became accessible to the American people. Together with other landmark projects of that era, arts helped instill a sense of unity and pride in the American people.
To conclude, arts are basic human needs and can benefit the society by enhancing economic development and promoting people’s morale. Therefore, it is neither reasonable or advisable to stop funding for the arts even when the country is faced with hunger and high unemployment rate.