Past Comments

February Issue 2003
by Tom Starland

Can't have your cake and eat it too!

Ain't that the truth! It seems no matter what you wish for - if you get it - you usually have to sacrifice something else. It's a constant balancing act, where even if you have the choice, you have to pick one thing over the other - you never get all you want. So, you're forced to make hard decisions.

When you're younger, less experienced - you go for the new shiny thing. The older you get, you tend to pick what will have the most lasting value, because you know you may never get to choose again. Aaah, such is life.

There is a national ad campaign going on in America which is asking you to choose art education in schools - over something else. They don't say you have to choose, but I'm telling you - you do.

The campaign is - Art. Ask for More. It's a national arts education public awareness campaign brought to you by Americans for the Arts, The Ad Council, The Doris Duke Charitable Foundation, and hundreds of local, state, and national campaign partners.

Depending on where you live in the Carolinas you may have seen, heard, or read, one of the campaign's messages on TV, radio, in print or on billboards. I say depending on where you live because the campaign depends on local partners to get media outlets to run these public service announcements (PSAs). Around the Lowcountry in SC, all I've seen are billboards carrying the message - Art. Ask for More.

I know about billboards. I don't like billboards. But like the little boy in the movie, "The Sixth Sense", - I see billboards everywhere.

Back in the 80s - during my environmental days - I photographed ugly billboards, wrote letters to editors of newspapers about billboards and even sat on a county ordinance committee charged with eliminating them. Unfortunately, there are more billboards now than back then - probably twice as many.

There is no campaign partner in the Lowcountry areas of SC - but we're getting the billboards anyway. I guess one of the sign companies decided to join the campaign on their own - what else would they do with all their billboards that they have no customers for? In one place there are three billboards with the same message - Art. Ask for More - within a couple of miles on the same road - the same side of the road. I'm sure people who ride that road are sick of the arts.

Well, besides my dislike for the way this message is being delivered in my little corner of the universe, I have no problem with the campaign beyond its overall timing. Now, is probably not the best time to be asking local and state leaders to give more funding for arts in education. At least not in the Carolinas where state budgets are being cutback further about every three months.

Right now, if you want more funding for arts in schools - something else is going to have to be cut. Do you think it is going to be sports? How about school lunch programs? Maybe teachers?

State education departments and local school boards are making hard decision right now about how they can cut 5% more off their budgets - after cutting back 5% just a few months ago.

Of course in SC we have the SC Education Lottery which put almost $80 million into the education pot - this year alone. But, anyone who has been in SC for very long knows that our State Legislators have a habit of reducing the regular budget whenever "extra" money is put in. We've seen it before with the 1 cent sales tax promise for education.

That's the way it goes, you can't have extra, you can't have all you want, so if you want more funding for art in schools - something else has to be cut. My suggestion in SC is to take the entire budget of the SC Arts Commission and put it into arts education in the schools. That would be a better use than what they are doing with their funding now.

But, wait! That would mean that local arts councils would lose their funding from the state and they are the groups in SC who are the local campaign partners for - Art. Ask for More.

You see, it's a tough decision of what you want more - arts in education or for whatever arts councils do. At least that's the current situation, but then again perhaps the economy will turn around tomorrow. And, in about five or six years the states could be fat and sassy again like they were a few years ago when they were throwing money around in every direction. But, not today.

You see, my basic problem with arts education for students is - why lie to them now. If the arts are not important enough to support in real life, why make the arts out as something important as a child. I don't think it is students who don't get the message about the arts and how important they are to life - it's the taxpaying adults who don't understand. Once most people start paying taxes, they forget about what they learned in school. They forget about how much they enjoyed art, music, dance, theatre and all the other enjoyable experiences the arts can bring.

Taxpayers want their taxes cut! They're telling us this every time they step into a voting booth. That's the Republican creed.

So, maybe the national campaign should be - Taxes. Ask for More.

Or, we could learn to better use the resources we have now and make more important choices as to where funding goes. We could educate the public on how education does better when taught through the arts. We could face up to the reality that taxpayers think they have put enough into the pot - they want to see the results of what they have already paid for. You can't just ask for more!

There is a lot of money being wasted in the arts right now that could be put to better use. But, because it's not BIG money, no one is paying much attention to the - what, where, who, and why - of art funding. Less money is being spent on the arts than state football coaches are being paid.

Art. Ask for More - Accountability!

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