Earlier this month, the Pennsylvania Senate approved state budget SB 850, which includes severe reductions in funding for the arts for the upcoming fiscal year. The budget, which passed by a 30-20 vote, cuts funding for the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts from $15 million to zero - effectively eliminating all monies designated for arts and culture grants throughout the state. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission suffered similarly, in a move that could affect not only museums and historical societies but some public television programs as well.

In a bleak economy, budget cuts are a necessity - but from the arts? Even aside from a philosophical belief that art benefits a society and its citizens, such drastic cuts will inevitably mean massive layoffs for those who work in the arts sector if the House passes the bill.

Zero is a shock-value word, and I did indeed feel shock as I read reports of the Senate's decision. I don't want to see my state's arts and culture budgets slashed. Yet in a state where 16.8 percent of all children live below the poverty level - a number that climbs to nearly one-third of children in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, and in several rural counties - I have to question if money spent on the arts is the best allocation of resources.

Muslih-uddin Sadi, a 13th-century Persian poet, said that if all he owned was two loaves of bread, he would sell one loaf and buy hyacinths to feed his soul. I love hyacinths, and I love the idea of feeding my soul, but I can't help wonder if Muslih-uddin Sadi was very hungry when he wrote that - or if, indeed, he had ever been very hungry.

Christine A. Scheller recently wrote about the high infant mortality rate in this country, a rate directly linked to maternal ...

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