Actor Kal Penn was quick to respond when Fox News host Tucker Carlson attacked the NEA on his program Saturday night. Carlson said, “The National Endowment for the Arts, is, in effect, welfare for rich, liberal elites.” Fox News tweeted the statement out after Carlson spoke about the NEA on his show, Tucker Carlson Tonight. Kal Penn tweeted back, “I’d love to bring you to “elite” Des Moines, where I teach arts to underserved kids through a @TurnaroundArts program launched with @NEAarts”
Carlson’s point of view on the NEA is one held by many in the current administration. Although the NEA’s total budget in 2016 was only $148 million dollars, not even half of one percent of the total federal budget, its place on the chopping block was met with cheers by many. Carlson’s point of view is that the NEA is wasteful excess that helps no one other than the much-hated elites he and President Trump love to complain about.
The reality, though, is that the NEA serves people all across the country, from cities to the most rural areas. It does indeed send money to big museums and symphonies, but it also funds programs for at-risk children, programs for children from economically disadvantaged backgrounds, children in underserved minority populations, and even the elderly. Kal Penn knew this from personal experience and used his platform to add that to the conversation.
The program Penn referred to in his tweet is one of many that the NEA helps fund. The Turnaround Arts program works to integrate the arts into all subjects to create well-rounded education for schools in need of help, specifically the lowest-performing 5% of schools. In Des Moines, schools in areas that suffered a series of devastating floods were chosen for the Turnaround Arts program to great effect. Turnaround Arts schools do typically have a true turnaround, with significant improvement in academic achievement, better attendance, and less need for disciplinary action. Kal Penn volunteers at Harding Middle School as part of the Turnaround Arts program.
Kal Penn is a stage name for Kalpen Suresh Modi. Penn is an actor known for roles in the Harold & Kumar films and the television shows House and Designated Survivor. He also has some background in politics, having served as Associate Director of Public Engagement in the Obama White House. He was also appointed appointed by President Obama to the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities in 2013.