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Trump's Scheme to Cut the NEA

Issue of the week

May. 23, 2017
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If any one person would imagine that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is just an “extra” item that could be dropped without consequences, they are sadly misinformed about its value. I can speak as someone who came to America from Europe, where in most countries, a fair proportion of tax revenue is assigned to the arts. The rationale behind this is that the arts are regarded as an important part of a nation’s cultural identity, and that all people should have the opportunity to have access to them. Whether people go or not is their choice, but it’s a question of them being available.  

So, if the proposed cuts to the already minimal funding for the NEA take place, then our present administration is saying that support for the nation’s cultural life is not their responsibility.  

It is well established in America that without philanthropic support, many much-needed programs would cease to exist. Charitable giving supports numerous health, educational and social programs, along with the arts. Eliminating public funding for the arts would result in a greater burden on the philanthropic community, and further deepen the disconnect within our communities between the quality of life and our elected government’s responsibility to administer for the “common good.” 

The grants to arts groups given by the NEA ideally should result from a deep and involved application process—a good vetting process that would give the NEA an opportunity to have a more objective understanding of what’s happening in the country and how best to be able to support those endeavors. But, years of thoughtless cuts to the NEA funding have eroded the founding ethos of the NEA. The NEA is “dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education.”

Cutting federal funding for the NEA is a lose-lose prospect in all respects. We’re not even talking about huge amounts of dollars; that’s the sad thing. Instead of it being cut, it should be increased because the positive impact would be immeasurable within our communities. I’m not just speaking as a man in the arts or one who believes in the arts—I truly believe that we have to provide access to the arts for everyone.  

Everyone should have an access point, should they chose to use it, and that access point should include community-based arts as well as the very best. The very best, that is often regarded as “art for the elitist,” is the prevailing excuse as to why the arts should not be funded by the government. 

Nothing will ever replace the incredibly emotional experience of attending a live event, be that a sports event or an arts event. No sitcom or streaming event on the internet can be as impactful.   

I regard the NEA as an investment in the people of our country for the future. It’s about fostering inclusion and building community. America should want to be known for the quality of the arts supported by the government. America is filled with unbelievable creative talent and if there is no acknowledgement from the government that creativity matters, then we risk a greater disparity between the classes. The philanthropic community already assumes the responsibility for funding the lion’s share of nonprofits, but their contributions, however valuable, should not replace the sense of common purpose that results in public support of the arts.  

The threats issuing from Washington to cut the NEA indicate that our government places little or no value on the arts, as opposed to the incalculable amounts of money allocated in other sectors. If just a fraction of the money spent on these programs was allocated to the NEA, then the continuation of a vigorous, inclusive, community-based cultural life in America would be assured.

The author of this guest editorial, Michael Pink, has been the Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Ballet since 2002.

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