While the state of Illinois finally passed a budget this summer, many say it’s no time for celebration. Slate reported that Rauner’s attempts to curb what he called a “bailout” were overridden by bipartisan cooperation (a 71-42 vote) on July 6. The state breathed a sigh of relief after a tense, two-year stalemate. For public schools like Northeastern Illinois University (NEIU), the budget allotment permits operational continuity, maybe even some looking forward. According to Interim President Richard Helldobler, “We can now properly plan the upcoming year.”
What does this mean for students? Blanket statements like “moving forward” don’t reveal much. There’s a certain security that comes from knowing the school you’re attending is still going to be around. For prospective NEIU student Alexis Harmon, it’s life changing. She said, “The budget means I can commit to a place without worries of closures or having to put my life on hold. It has relieved an immense anxiety about my future.” Harmon, who is working toward becoming a teacher, is one of countless individuals whose lives were thrown into uncertainty as rounds of layoffs and furlough days for NEIU employees made the news this year.
But the battle is momentarily over. The budget passed and funds are being released, according to Illinois Comptroller Suzana A. Mendoza. However, schools like NEIU will receive 10% less than what the university received in 2015. Conversations remain open about how to manage with lower state funding, while federal threats loom. The New York Times reported on President Trump’s announced proposal in March to completely remove funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Despite the wishes of the administration, Congress passed a bill to fund both organizations. They even threw in an extra $2 million. But what about next time? At the heart of these debates is a apparent targeting of creativity and intelligence at all levels of government. By underfunding (or not funding at all) our schools, arts, and humanities programs, a blatant lack of support for creativity is promoted.
An Artnet News opinion piece by Maia Evrona, highlighting the importance of the NEA, says it best, “the problem stems from a general lack of appreciation for art in this country, or perhaps simply a lack of understanding of how art is created.” Misinformation undercuts the pursuit of art in our communities. It’s what leads people to reject supporting what they view as trivial. Willful ignorance regarding arts’ ability to affect change, elicit empathy, and provide support for so many, holds our society back.
There will be another budget fight. There always is. As creatives, we need to be ready to push back, to organize for art and education. Because they are vital to our society – not trivial.
So what can you do? Keep up with the conversation. Stay engaged. For NEIU students there is a great forum for voicing opinions and airing concerns. Interim President Helldobler has marked the first and third Thursdays of the month, from 3:05-4:05pm, as open budget discussion time. Any everyone should check out The Americans for the Arts organization. They’re leading a mobilization effort with the trending hashtag – #SAVEtheNEA. On its website, Americans for the Arts can connect you with a variety of actions.