Saturday, May 21, 2011

Harry Reid, Sarah Palin, and Elko's Cowboy Poetry Gathering

A few months ago, during budget debates, Senator Harry Reid of Nevada used Elko's annual Cowboy Poetry Gathering as justification to call Republicans wanting to cut funding to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment of the Humanities "mean spirited". He said the grants given out by these two endowment funds create jobs and help communities like Elko.

Sarah Palin, without doing any homework into Senator Reid's statements at all, made a snap judgment and tweeted 'we can't afford cowboy poetry and subsidizing abortion'. I say this is a snap judgment because it assumes that Harry Reid's statement could be or should be taken at face value. It can't and shouldn't. Reid's statement was not entirely accurate.

The fact is that the Cowboy Poetry Gathering received two small grants for start-up funding from the National Endowment for the Arts in 1985. Ticket sales at each gathering provide 50% of the funding for the next year's gathering. The other half of the funding is provided by corporations and private donors. It truly is a self-perpetuating event that does provide an estimated $7 million dollars in business each year to this small rural community. Yes, it wouldn't have gotten started without the two grants but it keeps going on its own power. Something Mr. Reid and Ms. Palin would have done well to investigate before opening their mouths and inserting their feet.

The Gathering is put on by the Western Folklife Center. That Center devotes itself to preserving the national heritage, and the grants it receives from time to time are used on projects like archiving that benefit not just Elko but the entire United States. Those grants make up only 3-4% of the overall WFC budget, so while it might mean cutting back on some projects the Western Folklife Center and the Poetry Gathering alike would go on without them. All cowboys, and most rural folks, know how to tighten the belt to get through the lean times. The people in Elko aren't any different.

If you're interested in facts, and not just suppositions, you might want to take a look at this article and this one . Snap judgments are easy. Gathering facts before making a judgment on something isn't. However, when you have as many people listening to and acting on the words that you say, it's all the more important to gather the facts before you speak.To do otherwise is to bear false witness.

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