- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Jazz legend Wynton Marsalis and several other artists yesterday asked Congress to beef up arts funding to the tune of $50 million, saying it will decrease crime, raise children’s education scores and improve the image of the U.S. worldwide.

“Our kids are uncultured and culturally ignorant all around our country,” Mr. Marsalis testified at a hearing of the House Arts Caucus.

Pointing to a direct correlation between public funding of the arts and its perceived benefits, Mr. Marsalis asked Congress to increase funding for the National Endowment for the Arts from $124 million to $176 million.

“We are losing our kids at a rapid rate in the classroom,” said Sheila C. Johnson, who founded the Black Entertainment Television network with Robert Johnson, her ex-husband. “We are taking the creative spirit out of learning.”

Mrs. Johnson said that after-school arts programs keep children from “getting into trouble, out on the streets, doing drugs, having sex or in front of the television.”

Tom Schatz, president of Citizens Against Government Waste, a Washington organization that opposes tax increases, said more federal funding isn’t the answer.

Mr. Schatz acknowledged that after-school arts programs are beneficial but said local governments need to do a better job of providing funding. He suggested that playhouses and other programs charge user fees to increase their standing budgets.

Nonetheless, increased federal arts funding has support in the private sector.

“There is always an agenda, sometimes a hidden agenda, that makes us philanthropic,” said James Raisbeck, chairman of Raisbeck Engineering Inc., an aeronautical firm. Mr. Raisbeck said corporate donors tend to follow the federal lead when investing in the arts.

Robert L. Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, said more than 540,000 private businesses in the arts sector are generating $134 billion in annual income, including 4.5 million jobs and $24.4 billion in annual tax revenue.

“The arts also means business,” Mr. Lynch said.

Mr. Raisbeck said that increased arts funding could help burnish the “tarnished image” of the United States.

“It may not sound like a lot, but that $170 million can go a long way,” he said.

Rep. James P. Moran, Virginia Democrat, explained how the arts have affected his life. His daughter suffering from brain cancer several years ago was told she would have no ability to retain memories, but she showed a surprising response to music, he said.

“I’m trying to compose myself because it’s obviously very personal,” he said. “But she managed to memorize the entire score for ‘Grease.’ Go figure.”

The panel also heard from actor Chris Klein, a star of the movie “American Pie.” Mr. Klein said a publicly funded arts program at his high school in Omaha, Neb., gave him the opportunity to appear in his first major Hollywood film, “Election.”

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