Why the Green New Deal Must Include the Arts

4 mins read
Photograph of students in a free art class at the Harlem Community Art Center, 290 Lenox Avenue, New York City. Photograph shows a group of elementary to high-school aged children in a class sponsored by the Federal Art Project. Some of their works are hanging on a wall in the classroom. David Robbins, photographer - Archives of American Art, Public Domain, Link

I have always considered myself an artist. I spent my early years making marker masterpieces laying on the floor of my dad’s photo studio, quiet and doodling Disney characters so he could work in peace. I was seven when I declared to my diary that I would be a writer. Thirteen, when I forayed into Impressionism-style painting, and sixteen when I picked up a camera.  My first paying job out of high school was as a painter of Kansas City History. I’m a singer, violinist, drag/vaudeville performer, spent two seasons as the culinary assistant for Antoni on Queer Eye, my fake blood was once on Netflix, and yes, I have written and published three books.

I am also almost seven years sober.

Without art, I would not be able to say that.

When I was experiencing my first days of sobriety, everything seemed out of control. I was near-deathly ill, my abdomen was distorted from ascites, I had trouble walking, and I was yellow. I had moved back in with my mom, and was going to outpatient rehab. I picked up a needle and thread and started making custom embroideries and selling them to the other ladies at rehab. I sewed through AA, through the long hours at night, through group therapy. I sewed and sewed. It was the only thing I had control over that wouldn’t hurt me any further.

As I healed, I found my place again in the arts community of Kansas City. In that community is my found family: loud, boisterous, animal-loving, creative, intelligent, kind, radical people. We are everything under the sun, a society in a microcosm. Artists are the canaries, and if you look in our portfolios, you’ll see we foretold all that has come to pass. We process traumas in lights, and help people to want to heal themselves. Art has always been humankind’s way of telling each other that we are not alone in the world.

For a new, bold, and progressive society, it is imperative that we, as pioneers of the Green New Deal, champion guaranteed jobs for artists and musicians. I always supported my art career by working in the service industry, and I know barely anyone who is able to live by just producing art, or music. Constantly having to find work, or do odd jobs, puts a huge constraint on the artist to create. Many of us have relied on asking for emergency money on social media. Not having access to medical care severely impairs or kills us.

That is why we must follow the example of the New Deal by including artists and musicians.

Some of the most influential art pieces of the 20th century were created by artists employed by the New Deal. Our public spaces were reimagined and beautified by them. It’s time that instead of making budget cuts to art and music programs in schools, that we support them as being just as vital to humanity as other subjects. The Green New Deal’s version of the Federal Art Project must include musicians, dancers, street performers, and all types of artists underneath its umbrella, not just visual art. We must institute a cultural change in which we value our local artists, not just the few, “commercially-approved” artists that are figureheads of giant corporations. 

Politics, particularly, is an art. Perhaps the most meticulous of all, when done well. And I will work to ensure that every artist and musician has a stable base from which to grow.

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Community Activist, Artist, and Author Running for MO-05 US Congress.

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