Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts Is Crucial for Community Arts Organizations
I read with dismay that the Trump administration is likely to either eliminate or drastically reduce funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), a favorite whipping boy of the fiscally and philosophically conservative wing of the GOP. A post yesterday from Diane Ravitch combined with my work on the budget for a local non-profit led me to look at the source of funding for the two State Art Councils that occasionally offer us grants. What I found is that roughly half of the revenue from the States Arts Councils comes from the NEA. That finding led me to leave the following comment on Diane Ravitch’s posting.
I serve on the board of Revels North, a local arts organization that provides after school programs and community theater and cultural activities for communities in NH and VT located in the Upper CT River Valley. Our organization and several other non-profit community theater, music, and arts organizations would experience budget shortfalls since we all rely to some degree on grants from the State Arts Councils, both of whom rely heavily on the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) for funding. A $5,000 grant from either VT or NH Arts Council is a big deal for our organization and the other shoe-string non-profit arts organizations in our region. For us, a State grant can make or break our ability to offer traditional arts programming to children in our region, for others it can make or break the offering of affordable dance, opera, film, music, and arts programs. Additionally, many school districts in our region rely State Arts Council grants to offer Artist-in-Schools program to augment their arts programs, which often consist of limited direct instruction. If the State Arts Councils lose NEA funds, it will result in the loss of opportunities for students in our region to experience the arts.
In the coming weeks, I am certain that the GOP will find some avant garde programs or artists-in-the-schools programs that seem “frivolous and wasteful” and they will become Exhibit A for cutting the NEA. Some in the GOP will look at the list of signatories of the appeal letter from the Lincoln Center and ask why federal dollars should underwrite cultural programs that only “elitists” benefit from, and that will become Exhibit B. Finally, the GOP will argue that funding for programs like ours should be solely derived from LOCAL funds, which in our region would mean that children in the affluent communities would be the only ones who get to experience the arts first hand.
I read recently that when the British wanted to suppress the revolutionaries in Ireland, they arrested the harpists and banned the singing outside of churches. The arts ARE subversive to those who want to control the hearts and minds of the public… but powerful for those who value democracy. I hope that politicians will keep that in mind as they consider funding for the NEA.