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Let's Keep American Culture Endowed

At the Grammy Awards presentation on March 1, Michael Greene, the president of the Recording Academy, gave the following speech.

GOOD evening. I'm pleased to welcome all of you, more than a billion viewers in 167 countries, to the 37th Annual Grammy Awards. The extraordinary artists and recordings we pay tribute to here tonight remind us of music's powerful influence in our lives. Music and the arts are a healing, therapeutic force that lifts our spirits and unites us as a culture.

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But the fact is, our culture is at serious risk.

Viewers around the world may not be aware that the funding necessary to ensure the survival of our proud legacy of jazz, blues, and virtually all other forms of indigenous American music is being threatened. Our National Endowment for the Arts could have its budget slashed by 40 percent next year, another 40 percent the year after, and finally 'zeroed out' the year after that. And folks, National Public Radio and PBS will surely be next. We are here tonight on the brink of becoming the only industrialized nation in the world with no federal support for the arts.

They say it's a matter of money. Yet it costs taxpayers about a dollar a year to keep jazz, blues, folk, and classical music on the public radio airwaves, and for the Arts Endowment to bring theater, dance, and music to communities across America.

Is it really about money? You know, if the Pentagon tried to operate on the Arts Endowment's annual budget, they'd have to shut down in just five hours.

The arts are an economic plus -- second only to aerospace as our most lucrative national export.

Despite all this, our Speaker of the House has yet to agree to meet with the chairman of the Arts Endowment. It's hard to imagine either the secretary of commerce or defense being treated with such total disregard.

Since the Arts and Humanities Endowments were founded with bipartisan support 30 years ago, every president, Republican or Democrat, has strongly supported the arts and humanities. They knew that politicizing our arts agenda would cripple the accomplishments that make America a leading cultural force.

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Artists by their very nature stretch the limits. Controversy is both part of the price and the value of artistic freedom. Lest we forget, one of the endowment's most controversial grants was the funding of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. Today it is the most heralded and visited tourist attraction in our nation's capital.

We must not allow the arts to be politicized, privatized, commercialized, sanitized, neutralized, or ''zeroed out.'' To see to it that the arts retain their proper place within our society, grab a pencil and I'll tell you what you can do. On Tuesday, March 14, a campaign of unprecedented scope will be waged; it's called the National Call In Day for Arts and Culture. This campaign begins tonight by your calling 800-225-2007 for options that will see to it that your congressional representatives know that you support the continued funding for these vital programs.

When Winston Churchill was asked during World War II to cut the British Arts Council Budget, he didn't waste words. ''Hell no,'' said Churchill, ''what have we been fighting for?'' Folks, without arts education and the Arts Endowment, music and the love of it will no longer be a cultural treasure, but more and more a privilege tied to personal, family, and class economics.

Let's join together tonight in a triumphant crusade to keep the arts alive. Our very culture depends on it.

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