Amid the budget cut stalemate unraveling in Washington, a handful of celebrities made their Capitol Hill debut Thursday to advocate for increased funding for the arts.
Actor Tim Daly led the star-studded delegation on behalf of The Creative Coalition, a non-profit organization that advocates for the arts and entertainment. Once a year, the group blitzes Washington to petition legislators to increase funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for Humanities (NEH), according to Daly, the president of the Creative Coalition.
Each actor in attendance shared a personal story about how the arts affected their home towns, their education and their lives, with true showbiz flair.
Los Angeles-bred actor David Arquette remembered how he struggled in school before finding a place in theater.
“I got distracted when I was younger,” Arquette told ABC News. “The school play really focused me. It’s given me a drive.”
The actor and producer will soon grace the small screen with his own show for the Traveling Channel, a project that has allowed Arquette to witness the ripples of American entertainment.
“It’s incredible to see the impact that American culture has around the world and how it’s still a huge influence. And that’s something to be nurtured; it’s not something to be cut,” he said.
Danielle Panabaker, star of “Piranha 3D” and “The Crazies,” bemoaned the cuts the arts have suffered throughout the past 20 years.
“The arts affected my childhood and the rest of my life,” she said. “The arts in education really can transform a child’s experience in school.”
Panabaker’s younger sister, Kay, is also an actress, and the two participated in community theater together growing up.
“It’s so important to invigorate and stimulate creativity,” Panabaker said. “I think it’s immensely important and what’s going to be able to propel us into the future.”
When the time came to visit lawmakers, the stars focused not only on the cultural benefits of the arts, but on its economic importance as well.
Richard Kind, star of the HBO series “Luck,” emphasized the industry’s power to stimulate the economy. For every dollar spent by the NEA, according to The Creative Coalition, it reaps seven tax dollars, which was admittedly a surprise for the actor.
“I thought the arts were just there for enrichment of the soul,” Kind said. “It can also enrich the economy.”
“Those are odds that you would take to Vegas, to the stock market any day of the week,” Daly said. “We feel that to cut a program that is working so well would be foolhardy.”
As a brief intermission from the bleak statistics regarding the U.S. deficit clouding Capitol Hill, the celebrities of The Creative Coalition said an education in the arts can offer a more encouraging outlook. Students with such an education are more likely to graduate from high school, go to college and score higher on the SATs, according to the organization.
“They’ll be, basically, more productive citizens in every way,” Daly said.
“House” star Omar Epps acknowledged the importance of cutting the deficit, but said he believed slashing the budget for the arts was not the answer.
“The entertainment business is the second biggest export of our country next to agriculture,” Epps said. “What we’re here to fight for is … what [the arts] mean to our society fiscally, not just creatively and culturally.
And when it comes down to this year’s election cycle, Arquette, Epps and Kind said it’s obvious that President Obama would advocate more for the arts than his presumptive opponent, Mitt Romney. Though Kind stayed mum about which candidate he would ultimately support, he said that he “votes for the arts.”
“In these troubled times the arts take it on the chin the most and we are fighting to sustain money for the arts for the whole country,” Kind said, adding that this mission “is not an elite thing.”
And what better place to fight for something than Washington, D.C.?
“It’s really inspiring to be here,” Panabaker said.
Despite political issues that have created a huge divide between Democrats and Republicans on the Hill, the Creative Coalition maintains its bipartisan identity.
“There are people who vote against the arts,” Kind said with his familiar flair. “Personally, I vote for the arts.”
Several members of The Creative Coalition delegation will be sticking around D.C. this weekend to attend the White House Correspondents’ Association Dinner.