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Bettina Korek Headshot

Is This Cause for Alarm?

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I am hooked on two videos on YouTube. One, which has been viewed over one million times, visualizes how, as the Washington Post wrote, "minuscule" Obama's proposed $100 million cut from FY2011's $3.52 trillion budget really is. It's impossible not to understand how small when you see that cutting $100 million from the proposed FY2011 budget is equal to cutting one quarter of one penny in a pile of 8,880 pennies. I thought it must be true as the voice in the video casually says "we humans have a problem with big numbers and we don't get the concept of scale very well."

But when Obama acknowledged that this "efficiency saving" is just a "drop in the bucket" and that "none of these things alone are going to make a difference," he neglected to mention that his entire budget cut is slightly less then the entire proposed budget of $161.3 million for the National Endowment for the Arts for 2011 - about a third of one penny in the pile of pennies. I hope he shares the First Lady's vision for the arts and remembers her remarks from the ribbon cutting ceremony at the MET: "Our future as an innovative country depends on ensuring that everyone has access to the arts and to cultural opportunity...the arts are not just a nice thing to have or to do...they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation." The reality that the arts make cities better, generate revenue and ensure an innovative future is largely unrefuted, but it is also a matter of scale.

Not only do we have a problem visualizing scale, but we also can't seem to remember our own history. We have never had more information at our fingertips, but it's frightening how history is being forgotten. The YouTube campaign for the Apartheid Museum in South Africa, called A History Forgotten A Future Lost, shows "man on the street" interviews with young South Africans who can easily identify Britney Spears, Beyonce and Lady Gaga but not the anti-apartheid activists, just 16 years after the end of oppression. The YouTube video leads with the question: "Is this cause for alarm?"

Yes. I'm alarmed. Are you?