Why We Need The National Endowment For The Arts

The NEA played a vital role in how I was raised and who I am today.
03/28/2017 05:12 pm ET Updated Mar 29, 2017

Observations by a Global Nomad.

I recently saw both my long time friend Arun and his three-year-old boy, Akash, at a weekly concert put on by the artist collective “Brooklyn Raga Massive” (BRM) at the Art Café in Prospect Heights, Brooklyn. Arun and some like-minded musicians started BRM to provide an umbrella platform for an on-going musical dialogue that reflects the ever-growing landscape of America.

The picture on the right is of little Akash.

The picture on the left is one from my childhood of my father and I.

These images juxtapose two American boys of Indian origin both with an innate knack for creativity at a young age; but one, because of the recent proposed budget cuts in the Arts by the current regime, may have limited opportunities to fully explore his potential.

The scene at BRM that evening was packed with people of different ages listening to cross-cultural music. I’d been keeping an eye on Akash during the last set. He was weaving in and out of the audience with his shaggy hair and wool sweater, without a care, as if it were his own living room. Occasionally his dad, would pick him up from the ground, whisper in his ear and then let him roam freely in the space.

When I saw this, it brought me back to my childhood. I saw myself in this little boy. I remember roaming around cultural events in Boston, Massachusetts, navigating every encounter with raw curiosity and wonder.

My father, who isn’t a professional artist himself, made it a point to instill in me the value of art and community at a young age. I have vivid memories of group outings to the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, to screenings of Satyajit Ray films at the Brattle Theatre at Harvard Square and to Ravi Shankar concerts at Carnegie Hall in New York City. When I wasn’t rehearsing for The Christmas Carol at the after school program at my elementary school, I’d be home singing along with Sesame Street.

In fact, I can safely say I would not have become an artist at all if I hadn’t grown up in a family that encouraged the arts and a country that cared about art enough to have a national endowment devoted to it.

I am horrified to learn that the current U.S. political regime plans to abolish the National Endowment For the Arts (NEA). Grants from the NEA have been a necessity for the survival and preservation of the tapestry of America. Many of the organizations that nurtured the arts in me in my youth, such as Museum of Fine Arts in Boston and even Carnegie Hall, relies heavily on donations and grants from the NEA.

The NEA played a vital role in how I was raised and who I am today.

I see Akash and think, what would a world without the NEA look like to him?

The thought is devastating.

Saving the NEA is essential. It is up to us to help preserve it.

How do we do that?

By continuing the dialogue of the importance of art and community in today’s political climate.

Organizations like the Brooklyn Raga Massive are doing exactly that. They’re combating hate by promoting a sense of inclusion, community and providing a safe haven; where even a three-year-old child can feel at home, safely roam around, be in an artistic environment, and experience the world as his playground.

We need to encourage pioneers like Arun Ramamurthy to continue to create spaces that foster creativity just like my father did for me when I was a kid.

We are living in a time of political turmoil. Now more than ever, it is urgent that we make our voices heard.

Picture yourself when you were a little kid.

Think of the importance art has had in the development of who you have become.

Think of Akash’s future.

Urge and See.

That little boy is you. That little boy is me.

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