Occupy Museums’ “Debtfair” (2017) installation at the 2017 Whitney Biennial (photo by the author for Hyperallergic)

Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez has introduced a new bill to help art professionals with their student loans. Under the American Arts Revival Act, announced by the Democratic representative from New York this week, arts workers would qualify for $10,000 of student loan forgiveness. The program would be open to “cultural workers, museum professionals, artistic professionals and certain arts and humanities professors” who work full time to provide services to seniors, children, or adolescents, according to the press release.

“Those working in the arts and related fields make invaluable contributions to New York City and to our entire nation,” said Velázquez in the announcement. “Individuals that dedicate themselves to these professions enrich our culture and my bill would provide many of them with relief from mounting student loan debt.”

The release notes that individuals who obtain college-level degrees in the arts or attend liberal arts colleges are likely to have more debt than their peers. “The average debt for a graduate specializing in art, music and design averages at nearly $22,000,” it states, while “graduates of liberal arts colleges average a median debt of $19,445 versus $18,100 for research universities.” Over the past few years, numerous artists and collectives have been calling attention to the large amount of debt that students go into to study art, at both the undergraduate and graduate level. A 2014 BFAMFAPhD report cited a US Department of Education finding that 7 of the top 10 most expensive schools in the country are art schools and offered percentages of art-school graduates who default on their loans. For the recently closed Whitney Biennial, Occupy Museums presented its latest iteration of Debtfair, surveying hundreds of American artists about their debt and visualizing the increasing value of debt bundles.

The American Arts Revival Act seeks to build on the current Public Service Loan Forgiveness (PSLF) program, which was initiated in 2007 in conjunction with the reauthorization of the 1965 Higher Education Act. PSLF forgives the student debt of individuals who work full time in designated public service jobs — in government and at nonprofits — after they’ve made 10 years of consistent monthly payments. However, a recent report found that the program is extremely complicated, “leading to thousands being misled or losing their chances for loan forgiveness entirely,” BuzzFeed wrote. President Trump also proposed eliminating PSLF entirely in his 2018 budget.

Velázquez’s bill would expand the Higher Education Act’s definition of public interest to include providing arts services to seniors, children, and adolescents. Yet it seems possible that many of the people whose work falls under the terms of her bill may already be eligible for PSLF — which offers full loan forgiveness, rather than a capped amount — given that a large number of arts organizations are nonprofits. A program also exists to provide up to $17,500 of loan forgiveness to teachers who work in certain settings for five years — although the terms are, as for PSLF, fairly specific and complicated. Velázquez’s announcement does not state how long arts professionals would need to work in their fields in order to qualify for the credit.

Jillian Steinhauer is a former senior editor of Hyperallergic. She writes largely about the intersection of art and politics but has also been known to write at length about cats. She won the 2014 Best...