(Photo via the LBJ Presidential Library)
On September 29th, 1965, President Lyndon Baines Johnson signed into law the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act. The Arts and Humanities were separated into two independent agencies, with National Endowment of Humanities (NEH) focusing on grants and funding to museums, libraries, universities, public television, radio stations, etc. The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) proposed that the federal government would create an agency that would:
– Create a national theatre to bring ancient and modern classics of the theatre to audiences all over America
– Support a national opera and ballet company
– Create an American film institute, bringing together leading artists of the film industry, outstanding educators, and young men and women who wish to pursue the 20th century art form as their life’s work
And so on. (Info via the LBJ Presidential Library)
On signing this landmark piece of legislation, President Johnson had this to say:
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.
I consider Lyndon Johnson to be the finest President of this modern era because of pieces of legislation such as this one. I grew up with the arts. My parents use to take me to the Bass Concert Hall here in Austin when I was a kid to go see Broadway shows and other plays/ballet performances. I recently saw “The Great Society” a play based on the latter part of LBJ’s presidency and his struggle to implement programs like this one during the tumultuous Vietnam years. Plays like “The Great Society” wouldn’t be possible without LBJ signing this bill into law, and folks such as myself wouldn’t be able to go see plays like this at the community theater like I did at the Zach Scott Theater down the street from where I live.
But the one that makes the biggest impact on me was the creation of the American Film Institute (AFI). Obviously, I never attended the film institute or its events. I’ve only read about and heard about the place. Filmmakers like David Lynch, Darren Aronofsky, Terrence Malick, and more would not be the filmmakers they are today without the establishing of this fine institute and its conservatory. Men and women who would’ve never had the chance to pursue this dream of filmmaking were able to under the National Endowment of the Arts.
AFI helped me fall in love with the movies. As a kid, AFI would air their top 100 greatest movies of all time on CBS. There would be specials dedicated to best comedies, best horror films, best dramas, etc, etc. Some of the biggest names in Hollywood would be interviewed about their work or their favorite films in the list. These lists gave me a film education at a young age that continues to this very day. I’ll occasionally head over to the AFI YouTube page and watch old interviews with filmmakers and actors talking about movies or their craft.
It was reported this week that the current Presidential administration intends on cutting both the National Foundation for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which was made possible through another Johnson Great Society measure (The Public Broadcasting Act of 1967). Even though these two programs only make up 0.0625% of the federal budget, the President feels that these programs are too wasteful, and that we must put the federal money toward building a wall to keep out an entire nationality of people and continuing putting down gay and colored people in this country.
It’s no secret that I have very strong feelings against this president and his administration, but this report really hits home. CPB gave us NPR and PBS, the latter which I grew up watching along with millions of other American children. Sesame Street was a huge part of my young childhood, and I continue watching the network to this day when programs like Austin City Limits, American Masters/American Experience (and the wildly fun The Daytripper) air on the network. NPR continues to be essential listening for numerous programs while I’m driving/out and about (All Things Considered continues to be my favorite program, which the Texas Standard is arguably the best program about Texas politics out there). My two favorite radio stations in Austin, KUT and KUTX, would not be around if not for the CPB.
This is not a new idea for Republicans considering these programs to be wasteful or unnecessary. In 1981, Ronald Reagan planned on abolishing the Nation Foundation for the Arts once he entered office, but his buddies like Charlton Heston persuaded him not to do so. When Newt Gingrich was the Speaker of the House in the nineties, he wanted to abolish the NEA, the NEH, and the CPB, feeling that the endowments were wasteful and elitist. His plan ultimately failed.
The NEA/NEH and the CPB are not elitist. The arts are for everyone, no matter where you come from. Black, white, brown, yellow. Conservative, liberal, Democrat or Republican. It’s not political of me to say that these programs have saved lives and made lives better since its inception. I probably wouldn’t have this website if the AFI was never established to give me that film education at such a young age. I probably wouldn’t have gone off to art school for a year if I hadn’t been exposed to fascinating and challenging art throughout my life.
I oppose the decision by this administration to put these programs on the chopping block. But we as Americans can solve this problem. Since the CPB relies heavily on donations, please write a check or give money to these stations. For Austin, it would be KLRU (the local PBS affiliate), KUT (the local NPR affiliate), and KUTX. It doesn’t matter how much you give. Anything would be appreciated to these fine organizations. I’ll post the links to all of these places along with the National Endowment on the Arts at the bottom of this editorial.
These programs helped expose people to art that many thought you could only find in New York or LA. You can see amazing plays and ballet companies in your home town. You can see incredible and unique movies because of organizations like the American Film Institute. PBS and CPB expose people at a young age to all of that, as well as giving people education on history, the news, or basic children learning. I grew up in Austin, Texas (not far from Lyndon Johnson’s birthplace of Stonewall, Texas), and without these programs, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I’m forever grateful to Lyndon Johnson for bringing the arts to my hometown, and having been named after a longtime Johnson friend/confidant in Jake Pickle, I continue to preserve LBJ’s legacy by making sure that people know about the great work that this President did.
The arts saved my life. Please help in making sure that these programs can be preserved for generations.