Our society is built not just by bone and flesh but also by imagination. We’re wealthy when we create. We’re poor when poetry is missing from our lives. But how do we sustain our creative lives during a time of economic crisis?

Clearly, our country is in trouble. We lost over one million jobs in 2008. Families are losing their homes. Young people are wondering whether there will be jobs for them when they graduate. We’re told this is the worst recession in 30 years and that it’s probably going to get worse yet. President Barack Obama’s election was a call for change. It’s also a testament to what Americans can accomplish if we put our minds to it.

What will be the fate of the arts during this recession? Some states have cut funding for their arts commissions. Many schools have cut or abandoned arts and music programs in the past decade because of budget crunches and pressure from No Child Left Behind, which requires schools to regularly test math, English, and science — but doesn’t address arts expertise, foreign languages, or other important subjects.

Mr. Obama aims to create 3 million jobs. Congress is poised to pass a $600 billion stimulus package aimed at creating jobs to invigorate the economy. The package harkens back to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s Works Progress Administration (WPA) programs, which employed over 3.4 million Americans between 1935 and 1943. WPA workers built hundreds of thousands of miles of roads, streets, and highways. They repaired bridges, created public buildings, parks, and landing fields. They also worked in the arts.

The WPA funded over 40,000 artists, writers, musicians, theater workers, and performers. Public support made it possible for artists of modest means to dedicate themselves to their work. The WPA supported Jackson Pollock, Arshile Gorky, Saul Bellow, Zora Neale Hurston, John Steinbeck, Sterling Brown, Orson Welles, John Houseman, Burt Lancaster, and many other great talents, known and unknown. Our generation deserves no less.

The Institute for Policy Studies recently launched a petition calling for 1 percent of the stimulus package to be spent on the arts. This arts stimulus initiative wouldn’t just boost funding for public programs. The money could create workplace arts and reading programs, increase fellowship and scholarship support for artists, foster cultural exchange programs with other nations, and support artist- and writer-in-residence programs in schools and public libraries, and more. Proponents also are calling for the establishment of a cabinet-level post for culture and the arts in the Obama administration and beyond.

What if there were no art? How much is the world worth without color? What if we had jobs but no music during our breaks or when we returned home?

The arts enliven and build our communities, preserve our cultural heritage, and inspire us to be more thoughtful and engaged with the world. Whatever we face in the coming months, let’s face it with creativity and courage.

Sign the petition at http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/artsstimulus/index.html

Distributed by Minuteman Media.

E. Ethelbert Miller is the chair of the board of the Institute for Policy Studies and Melissa Tuckey is the co-director of the Split This Rock Poetry Festival.

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