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Jennifer Rivera Headshot

Why Anyone Who Values the Arts Should Care About This Election

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This may seem like a no-brainer since most artists tend to be the NPR-listening, PBS-watching, artsy fartsy liberal types. However, I did notice that a few of my facebook friends (okay, eight out of 650) "liked" Mitt Romney, and with the race in a statistical dead heat, I'm guessing there are plenty of artistic types out there who have decided to vote for Romney because of "the economy."

Like many people in the country -- artists included -- I have absolutely felt the squeeze of this sucky economy. I am expecting my first child in December, and I am beside myself with excitement about his arrival. However, he is arriving at the end of what has been the single worst year for me financially in my 12-year career as a professional freelance opera singer. I have been working for the entire year as a singer, and haven't had to seek additional work, as many of my colleagues have, but have certainly noticed that there are far fewer opportunities, and that because the arts organizations are squeezed so tightly, the paychecks have gotten smaller. And it's not, as some would say, Obama's fault. Our arts organizations have been struggling more and more for the past 10 years, beginning around September 11th 2001, and continuing with the economic collapse that occurred during the Bush era.

And to those that would scream, "Get a real job!" to me, I say to you: This is a real job. This is something I spent years studying to perfect, and that happens to bring a lot of people great joy. In other countries where culture has a higher value among the general population, artists are very well respected and treated as if they are contributing to society, which they certainly are. And I would argue that if more Americans were taught to value the importance of the arts, this would improve our lives, our attitudes, and even our economy.

When a city develops and supports a thriving arts community, the city's economy experiences a boost. When there are symphonies to listen to, plays to see, and galleries to visit, the businesses in the downtown areas that generally house the theaters, concert halls, and museums see far more business. When your city has successful arts organization it becomes a destination, and the business of tourism increases. Not to mention all the musicians and artists and administrators that are gainfully employed by these organizations, and who live in and give back to their communities. And I'm just mentioning the financial benefits to having the arts in a community -- I'm not even talking about the educational and social benefits of exposing people to the arts, a subject I have already written about in a plethora of blog posts, should you care to further investigate.

Mitt Romney has been very clear that not only does he want to eliminate funding for Big Bird and "Car Talk," but he wants to reduce by half funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. Now, our country is set up in a way that artistic organizations must basically become businesses and they have very little government assistance as it is. The NEA budget isn't exactly enormous, and the amount of grant money various organizations receive is often minimal.

But my main argument against a president who is eager to defund the NEA is that he is promoting an even further plunge into a society that has very little respect for and understanding about how important the arts can be. If we can't even afford a tiny sliver of our operating budget to support not only the thousands of artists, but the artistic organizations of our communities, we are basically giving up on promoting culture as a thing of value and importance. We are saying that as a society, the arts should only be allowed to survive if they can be supported by the wealthy patrons who give enough money to keep them running. If not, they have no place in our society, and we just have to settle for reruns of Jersey Shore and the NFL. Now there is nothing wrong with either of those things, but when they exist without the balance of arts and culture, we live in a lopsided society where people no longer value the entire scope of what human nature is able to accomplish and create.

Forget for a minute that Romney has never run the country, so we don't even know if his economic policies would necessarily be better than what we've got going now (although we do know that the state he did run will not be voting for him on Tuesday). Forget that he wants to keep my best friend and his husband from receiving the same rights and privileges that my husband and I enjoy. Forget that he wants to take away a woman's rights to her own body, and that his vice presidential candidate thinks that even underage rape victims should probably just be forced to have their rapists babies. Forget that along with the NEA he wants to eliminate or privatized FEMA. Forget that we don't even have any idea what he would actually do because he keeps telling us different things and changing his position on virtually everything.

Even if we forget all of that, just imagine a country where singers aren't encouraged to sing, where painters aren't encouraged to paint, and where playwrights aren't encouraged to write. Where cities have nothing drawing people to them except World's Largest Sausage Museums and corporate-sponsored sports arenas. Imagine a world where many of the amazing movies we adore never even get made because the directors and screenwriters were never inspired by other art forms to create them. And if you think that all this seems silly and inconsequential in the wake of something as frightening and destructive as Hurricane Sandy, consider that beauty and creativity are often the things that unite us and give us hope, especially in times of great loss and sorrow.

This election is important for so many reasons, and we can't afford to let someone run our country who just pooh-poohs the need to support the arts. Artists inspire us in ways we don't even always realize on a conscious level -- they just make our lives, and our country better. Please don't just vote for someone because of how you think it will affect your wallet -- vote for someone who wants to improve your quality of life on many different levels. Let's encourage Americans to continue innovating in every area that we are capable of -- including the arts.