“I know how it feels to be free” … because of the Arts, Meals on Wheels, & PBS

The devastation proposed in the budget of the current occupant of the oval office is vast and cruel. It proposes cuts to basic life (meals) for the elderly and disabled, cuts for children to learn from Sesame Street programming on PBS, cuts for balanced NPR news shows broadcast on radio and television, cuts to arts & humanities in small towns and big cities and cuts to music programs that could produce the next Nina Simone. Ms. Simone wrote the song from which I took the title of my blog for this week, “I know how it feels to be free.”

The Arts speak to our souls, they make us feel, actually feel. Arts in all of its forms – literary, visual, performing – give us expression but they also give us courage to be our authentic selves. There have been other Presidents and other budgets that threatened to reduce or diminish the priorities of the Arts & Humanities but none that proposed complete elimination of whole programs like this one.

This Republican Administration budget went further than even the most conservative estimates. It proposed not just reduced funding of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for Humanities but their complete elimination.  Not just reduced funding but elimination of PBS, the vehicle for our children to learn through Sesame Street for more than five decades. PBS, the vehicle for news shows where Gwen Ifill broadcast pure journalism in an art form.

When independent journalism is silenced, we need only look to Russia to see what a country becomes. In the face of the effort already underway by the Republican Administration to stifle the freedom of the press and free speech, The Washington Post has taken to promoting a tagline in its digital edition: “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” What this Republican wants is to silence our freedom, our free expression, our art … in its many forms.

In these times, let’s remind the rest of the voters that the basics are important. Meals on Wheels are basic. How dare the White House Director of the Office of Management & Budget go on national television at Sean Spicer’s press conference and imply it’s okay for a single mother of two in Detroit to pay for six golf trips to MaraLago, security at the ivory tower in NYC but there is no priority for elderly and disabled to receive food through the Meals on Wheels program. What a backwards display of what is basic. And he had no shame in saying and felt no remorse in repeating it on the Sunday news programs a few days later.

PBS programs are basic. The Arts are basic. Humanities are basic. They are not simply froufrou. For some reason this country seems to struggle with this while other countries see the value of it. Our artists …singers, visual artists, dance performers … have sometimes gone to Europe to find success that alluded them in the U.S. In doing some research for this blog, I found an article in an Arts Council website for the UK (http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/). They have actually created a tool kit for the community to be engaged in knowing arts and culture make a difference in education, health, well-being, the economy and their society in general. Here’s an excerpt:

The holistic case for art and culture | Arts Council England

Art and culture enhance every part of our lives. They bring us joy, and help us to make sense of our own experiences and to empathise with others. This is what we cherish.

Art and culture also give us other benefits. They benefit us economically, socially, and educationally – from the future prospects of our children, to the vibrancy of our cities, to the contribution made to economic growth.If we want people to support art and culture, we need them to understand why art and culture is so essential to them, to their communities and to their nation.

Collectively, everyone working in the sector can tell a powerful story about this. We can prove that art and culture really do make a difference.

We believe every child, not just the privileged, should have the chance to enjoy the arts as part of growing up. That means making, seeing and doing, both within school and in our galleries, museums and theatres.

Participation in culture is strongly associated with good health and high life satisfaction. Alongside this positive impact on general well-being, there is growing evidence on the benefit that art and culture can have on specific conditions.

  • As pressure increases on the NHS, healthcare providers are increasingly making use of art-based projects. Reduced demand for GP and mental health services as a result could already be saving the NHS £500 million a year.
  • participation in the arts can contribute to community cohesion, reduce social exclusion and isolation, and make communities feel safer and stronger

    • seventy-six per cent of older people say art and culture is important in making them feel happy; 57 per cent say art and culture is important in helping them meet other people; and 60 per cent say it is important in encouraging them to get out and about
    • high school students who engage in the arts at school are twice as likely to volunteer than those who don’t engage in the arts
    • high school students who engage in the arts are also 20 per cent more likely to vote as young adults
    • students who study art subjects are more employable and more likely to stay in employment
    • culture and sport volunteers are more likely to be involved and influential in their local communities


    So, back to Nina Simone and feeling free. This past Sunday, my local newspaper, The News&Observer, published a story, For the love of Nina … Artists unite to save Simone’s Tryon birthplace. (http://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/arts-culture/article139384078.html) The article talks about how several artists have been inspired to put their money together to purchase the home that Ms. Simone was born in and preserve it. Part of their inspiration came from them looking for a way to channel their frustration after the 2016 Presidential election. Part of their inspiration was the realization that the childhood homes had been destroyed of Malcolm X and W.E.B. DuBois and others like them. Four prominent African-American artists pooled their money and saw the transaction as “an act of art but also of politics, a gratifying chance to respond to what they see as a deepening racial divide in America…”

    Nina Simone’s song, “I Wish I Knew How It Would Feel to Be Free” is mentioned in the News&Observer article as being featured in an ad / commercial during this year’s Super Bowl, a sign of the RESISTANCE times we are in. President Barack Obama also said that song was in his summer 2016 playlist.

    I love the photo of Nina Simone that was selected by the newspaper to accompany the article. It is a bold statement for confronting this Republican Administration’s proposed budget. It is a bold statement for confronting the defense of The Arts, PBS, Meals on Wheels and a free press. It is also a bold statement for the start of spring, which begins this week. With this Nina Simone photo, her childhood home being preserved, the lyrics to her song, and the start of spring, I say: Oh, I know how it feels to be free, yea, yea! Oh, I know how it feels.


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