Eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts would impact fundraising, outreach and performance at a time when nonprofits arts funding is increasingly scarce.
OUR community must take a stand to preserve federal arts funding and recognize its impact on cultural innovation and local quality of life.
President Donald Trump is reportedly poised to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), which has supported a broad range of art performance since 1965. The NEA’s budget was $148 million in 2016, representing little more than a rounding error of the $3.8 trillion federal budget. Yearly military spending, by contrast, tops $600 billion.
President Trump’s largely symbolic proposed cut, along with similar cuts to the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, would have an oversized impact on our schools and cultural institutions.
Over the last 10 years, the NEA funded more than 400 projects in Washington’s 7th Congressional District, which includes most of Seattle. The grantees make up a roll call of Seattle’s thriving arts ecosystem and include Folklife, Seattle Children’s Theatre and Seattle International Film Festival.
Critics of the NEA insist that it represents government overstep, displaces private philanthropy and subsidizes programs for the cultural elite. There are also rampant accusations of the NEA funding controversial works that aren’t really “art.”
I cannot disagree more. Most NEA grants are modest, a small portion of the annual budget for some arts entities, but their loss would take a tangible toll on small and large organizations alike, including Seattle Pro Musica. NEA grants are a benchmark of quality, an encouraging indicator to community donors that the organization is taking on a worthwhile project. Eliminating the NEA would impact fundraising, outreach, and performance at a time when nonprofits arts funding is increasingly scarce.
Much of the NEA’s grants are specifically intended to make the arts more accessible to broader swaths of American society. The Seattle Times recently detailed $30 million in fall arts and culture grants from the NEA, including $100,000 dollars to help fund arts-education programs at Seattle Public Schools. These investments help create memorable works of lasting societal value.
Debates about what art is “worthy” of support have been going on for centuries, and cultural assessments have changed dramatically over time. Mozart’s “Don Giovanni” was criticized as amoral in the late 18th century, and Stravinsky’s “Rite of Spring” was so controversial that its 1913 Parisian premiere inspired a riot. But putting these debates aside, most of the projects that the NEA supports are noncontroversial works that indisputably add richness to our cultural landscape. For example, in 2014, Seattle Pro Musica received a $12,500 grant from the NEA to fund our New Sounds Northwest concerts featuring choral performances of composers from the Pacific Northwest.
We believe that Washington state residents can make a difference. It’s time for those who share a love of music, culture and artistic expression to unite in grass-roots support of federal arts infrastructure and its local beneficiaries.
This is a winnable battle, and one worth fighting. We’re fortunate to live in a community that readily takes to the streets or social media to protest unjust policy change. A growing number of people have signed a national petition to President Trump to preserve the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. But we believe the most compelling case can be made in person: at a concert, in a school or over dinner.
Most important, our region’s support for arts must reach our lawmakers, who are proud to represent such a vibrantly artistic community.
In these divided and acrimonious times, more people than ever are looking for sources of beauty, joy and inspiration. Now is the time to strengthen, rather than undercut, our capacity to create.
American art is a uniquely homegrown commodity, and Seattle is known internationally for its contributions. Indeed, art transcends politics and bridges international boundaries like no other aspect of our global society. It deserves our continued support.