Art and America-A Letter to Senator Rob Portman

“The Three Musicians” by Tess Kelly's great-great grandfather Sam Cashwan

Dear Senator Portman,

My name is Tess Kelly, and I’m a sixteen-year-old girl from Cleveland, Ohio. My passion is for the written word, and I am a performance poet as well as an avid writer. I am a firm believer in the power of language, and that is why I write to you today. Writing is my art, and its significant role in my life fuels my belief in the overall importance of the arts. When things get tough, art is usually one of the first things to suffer, but today, I’m asking you to vote in favor of allocating funding for the arts in the federal budget this year. 

Cleveland is an amazing city, and this is largely due to the arts. Here, in the second largest city in your state, we have one of the world's best orchestras, one of the best art museums, and a fabulous theater scene. For me, Cleveland is like the poor artist's New York City, with an astonishing number of bars and clubs which hold poetry readings and slams. For a city of its size, the Cleveland arts scene is unprecedented and thriving, and I do not want to lose it. Programs for teen poets which I attend derive their funds partially from federal financing, and I fear what will happen if we lose this funding, but this is bigger than me. Art is one of those rare things that can connect people regardless of background, and therefore strengthens our community. If we lose the arts, I believe the ramifications will be more harmful than one might think.

My great-great grandfather, Samuel Cashwan, was commissioned by the Public Works Administration in the 1930s to create fantastic sculptures, sculptures that still stand today.  He sculpted Abraham Lincoln for a park, angelic gargoyles for a church, fairytale scenes for a library, as well as abstract art that is placed throughout the city. The Great Depression actually helped people see the value in the arts, because beautifying our country and inspiring people is critical to all Americans, especially in trying times. Whether one likes country or hip hop or classical compositions, music is emotional and important to around 98% of Americans.  Poetry is so powerful that United States Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera said that “poetry is a call to action, and it also is action.” The point is that the arts do matter, and we need them. While many might argue that the arts aren’t necessary, and wouldn’t hesitate to set them aside during tumultuous times, I would argue that this is when we need them most. The arts allow us to make sense of the world around us, and we need that now more than ever. 

Now, I get it.  There seem to be much larger issues that we need to address. Our country is in crisis, and it would be naive to insist otherwise, and so it might appear convenient to cut funding for the arts in favor of what might feel more relevant. But again, times of trial are in fact the most important times for art.  Theater, music, poetry, and the visual arts in all forms, give people hope, make people think, and inspire communities to lift themselves up. Cleveland, for all its problems, has become a hub of artistic expression, and has shed its image of “the mistake on the lake.” Our once poverty-stricken district along the Cuyahoga River, though it still has a long way to go, has become a center for concerts and open mic nights.

The arts have revitalized Cleveland’s once factory-based economy. We have theaters for every price point, bars filled with jazz, and we have people coming together through art. Our steel industry may be dwindling, and this brings new challenges, but we face these head on and we ask hard questions through poetry and music. We are willing to ask and wonder. Our economy is multi-faceted, but any Clevelander will tell you that part of the reason they love their city is the presence of art. Without our theater, music, poetry, and art, we are a smaller, less vibrant city. Without it, we are a dull and dying place, just another forgotten American steel town. But with art, we become a revitalized place.

There is no single solution to gigantic problems, but sometimes the smallest touch can change lives. If a single Ohioan’s, or American’s, life is improved by their experiences with poetry or music or theater, then it is worth it, because art lifts people up one at a time, until entire cities are stronger and better for it. I am an artist.  My great great grandfather was an artist. An artist is someone who sees the world in a certain, special fashion, and then they compose it or they sculpt it or they write it or they act it, and they make you see it, too. Give them a chance, and they will make you see it, too.

For these reasons, as well as the others I have outlined, I sincerely hope that you will agree that the arts are critical to our community, and vote in favor of allocating funds in the federal budget for the arts this year.


Tess Kelly

This piece was written as part of JWA’s Rising Voices Fellowship.

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How to cite this page

Kelly, Rachel Tess. "Art and America-A Letter to Senator Rob Portman." 7 July 2017. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 27, 2022) <>.

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