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Practical Politics

The politics of eviscerating government support for arts and humanities

David L. Horne, PH.D. | 9/7/2017, midnight

Unless the art of lying is considered a special skill, our current POTUS seems not to have any notable artistic talent. It should therefore not have come as a surprise to many of us that in his first national budget proposal, Mr. Trump called for the elimination of all public funding for the National Endowment of the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. This horrified many artists and performers in this country, and in the world community. No other U.S. president has ever done that, though there have been numerous times that budget reductions in those agencies have been requested.

Fortunately, the U.S. budget is crafted by Congress, not by the President. The latter only sends in his wish list of priorities and interests. Already, the House Appropriations Committee, in July, passed a bill that called for merely a small decrease in the budgets of both agencies, signaling the intent of many Republican congresspersons not to follow the president's lead on that issue.

The N.E.A. and the N.E.H. were created in 1965 with then-President Lyndon Johnson signing public law 89-209, the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act. President Johnson said then, “In the long history of man, countless empires and nations have come and gone. Those which created no lasting works of art are reduced today to short footnotes in history's catalog. Art is a nation's most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Apparently, even though he continues insisting that he will make America great again (and keeps selling his hats with that title), Mr. Trump is not moved by (if he ever even read them) the former president's words. He even refused to host and attend this year's presidential dinner associated with the Kennedy Center Honors celebrations. President Obama attended each one during his administration and in doing so helped to continually and positively publicize the importance of art and culture in the U.S.A. Since their 1978 inaugural, the Kennedy Center Honors ceremonies have been among the most important and significant reminders of how great America's cultural contributions have been and continue to be.

Thus far, more than 200 honorees have been selected by a special Executive Committee (although public nominations are accepted at the beginning of the process), and the performance aspect of the ceremonies has been televised annually by CBS usually in an after-Christmas special. Honorees come from five categories: music, dance, theater, opera, motion pictures or television, and are still living when nominated. The awards are for life-time achievement and pushing the boundaries of the particular art-form, but never for who is merely popular for the moment.

The list of African American honorees includes Marian Anderson, Aaron Copeland, Ella Fitzgerald, Leontyne Price, Count Basie, Katherine Dunham, Lena Horne, Merce Cunningham, Ray Charles, Chuck Berry, James Brown, Tina Turner, Al Green, Smokey Robinson, Aretha Franklin, Mavis Staples, Buddy Guy, B.B. King, Diana Ross, Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee, Sidney Poitier, James Earle Jones, Harry Belafonte, Bill Cosby, Jessye Norman, Arthur Mitchell, Cicely Tyson, Lionel Hampton, Fayard and Harold Nicholas, Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Alvin Ailey, Judith Jameson, Bill T. Jones, and others. All told, there have been approximately 50 African American honorees, including the 2017 group, Lionel Richie, LL Cool J and Carmen de Lavallade. Clearly, some others most deserving were not on the list of Kennedy honorees either because they were deceased when the year's nominations were made, or the Executive Committee had chosen to focus on more modern artists. Duke Ellington and Michael Jackson fell into the first category, and Johnny Mathis, the third best-selling artist in history, according to the Guinness Book of Records, mainly for Columbia Records, still falls into the second category.

Mr. Mathis should be selected. I recommend that all of you send in your nominations for next year while he is still among us, in spite of Mr. Trump.

All hail the artists and performers among us!!!

Professor David L. Horne is founder and executive director of PAPPEL, the Pan African Public Policy and Ethical Institute, which is a new 501(c)(3) pending community-based organization or non-governmental organization (NGO). It is the step-parent organization for the California Black Think Tank which still operates and which meets every fourth Friday.

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