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Barrick Museum funding: a symptom of a larger problem 

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Budget cuts to UNLV building signals continued political willingness to sacrifice arts

It’s an extremely sad day when a budget decision comes down to either supporting the Barrick Museum or graduate assistantships, as it did recently. The choice made was in favor of the assistantships, meaning that the museum’s budget got the axe. Completely.

While unfortunate, that was the correct decision. Supporting the students takes precedent over supporting what is, realistically, a minor part of the university. However, it’s difficult to imagine how the Research and Graduate Department was forced into such a decision. Graduate assistantships are such a vital part of a graduate student’s schooling that even considering cutting their funding seems nearly criminal.

On the other hand, cutting all the funding to an institute of art and culture, however small, is a blow to the community at large. That these were the two choices put up on the chopping block is indicative of just how badly the state of Nevada has treated UNLV, cutting our budget to the point where the school’s focus is on survival and nothing else. No university should be forced into such a position.

It was, however, almost inevitable that the museum would face some type of obscene cuts. People in this country, particularly those in government, undervalue the importance of art and cultural institutions. It is those areas that face the budget reaper when crunch time comes, both at the academic and the national level.

Republicans have been waging their own war against any sort of government funding of art, constantly proposing crippling budget cuts to NPR, PBS and the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). All these institutions have been described by Sarah Palin as being “frivolous,” an attitude that seems to be common amongst her compatriots as they search for ways to cut down on our mounting debt with budget cuts alone.

For 2012 the NEA has requested a budget of $146 million. The defense budget for 2012 is $703 billion. While it’s certainly true that every little bit helps when it comes to beating back the $14 trillion in national debt that has accrued, any cuts made to the NEA would be as nothing next to what could potentially be taken from our bloated military budget. War seems to be of more importance than the preservation of our culture, however. Destruction trumps creation.

Art and how it is treated is a reflection of a nation. It reveals its values — all of them, popular or not — and presents its soul to the world. All of history’s great nations have treated art as important, and it’s ironic that the modern institutions that are charged with maintaining that aspect of history are treated so poorly in their endeavors to preserve our own nation’s offering to history’s collection.

Of course, the Barrick Museum is only a minor institution, and its closing would hardly damage the health of our nation’s culture. Its loss would be a blow for the students of UNLV.

The museum has always been a place where a tired student can find a moment of respite. It offers relief from Nevada’s harsh heat and relaxation for a mind overstressed from schoolwork. The artworks it puts on display and the events it hosts help enlighten and inform those who are able to take a little time to visit.

As a local institution, it presents the UNLV community with a unique look at the place we live by sometimes displaying the work of local artists or showcasing some piece of Nevada’s history. It presents a glimpse of culture beyond the glitz Las Vegas is known for.

The museum will be able to keep its doors open for another year or so without any new funds. Plans are in the works to try to bring in money from private donors, and I hope there are enough people in Vegas who can see the value of such an institution in order to keep it afloat.

Otherwise, our school will lose another little piece of itself — one more sacrificial offering to the politicians in Carson City who continue to cut freely and deeply into the budgets of institutions they should be doing everything in their power to preserve.


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