Food for the soul? Arts funding takes a beating in ugly economic times

As I wrote recently, America's charities are going bust at a terrible rate in these recessionary times. But another non-profit sector is ailing and in need of help as well: The arts.

Theater companies, groups that perform for underprivileged people, and opera companies, have been forced to shutter, taking with them all the actors, writers, designers, musicians, and crew they employ. Part of the blame falls to high ticket prices -- if we can't afford to give $20 to the United Way, we certainly can't afford to spend $100 on a ticket to a show.

But blame also goes to the low value our government has placed on the arts for years, dating to way before this recession. For years, it's been politically cool to sneer at the people who manufacture our country's culture and self-expression, and now that times are lean, those charities lack support and are first to fall.

Last month, Senator John McCain stood up before Congress and derided the $50 million earmarked for the National Endowment of the Arts. "Tell me how that creates any significant number of jobs?" he said. I thought of my many friends who are involved in some of America's most lasting and important international export industries: entertainment. Many of them, having chosen this field as their careers, are now suffering, and it's not like they can suddenly get a job in marketing or banking in the current climate.