Arts Organizations Push Back on NEA Cuts

DAVID SEPULVEDA PHOTOA roundtable meeting of the Arts Industry Coalition — a group of area arts organizations, arts leaders, and stakeholders organized by The Arts Council of Greater New Haven and hosted by the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven in its offices on Audubon Street — discussed what can be done to save the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and what might be done if they are dissolved, as a current budget proposal from the Trump administration suggests they could be.

In a late March opinion piece appearing in the Hartford Courant, Helen Kauder, executive director of Artspace, fired a salvo against President Trump’s proposed budget cuts to the NEA and NEH — budget cuts that will affect state funding and arts organizations across the state.

Though NEA funding represents 0.02 percent of the total national budget, the Trump administration has suggested cutting it.

Likening “early [investment] money” to yeast that rises and multiplies in social and cultural dividends, Kauder wrote: “The now-embattled National Endowment for the Arts works in the same way for arts and culture, creating momentum, hope, pride and inspiration, all from a modest investment. If Congress passes the proposed Trump administration budget that eliminates funding for the NEA, we will have lost an engine that shapes and defines our shared humanity.”

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro, who was to have attended the meeting, had to cancel but was represented by Congressional staffer Lou Mangini.

Other attendees at the event last Friday included Andy Wolf, director of New Haven’s department of arts, culture, and tourism, along with representatives from the Arts Council of Greater New Haven, Arts for Learning CT, Artspace, the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven, EcoWorks, the Eli Whitney Museum, the International Festival of Arts & Ideas, Long Wharf Theatre, Milford Arts Council, Music Haven, Neighborhood Music School, New Haven Ballet, New Haven Musem, New Haven Symphony Orchestra, Shubert Theater, Visit New Haven and REX Development, Wesleyan University Center for the Arts, Yale Center for British Art, Yale University Art Gallery, and other city officials.

Participants discussed how to develop and disseminate a unified message supporting a #SavetheNEA mini campaign, part of the national pushback by organizations in response to the proposed cuts. Save the NEA urges activism by artists and audiences that includes calls to representatives, postcard campaigns, and broad participation and support of the Great Give Campaign under the auspices of the Community Foundation for Greater New Haven. The annual May campaign is a lifeline for many nonprofit arts and community organizations.

Additional strategies and actions included advocating for state funds to match NEA grants on a 1-to-1 basis, publishing letters, holding advocacy discussions at board meetings, and including campaign ads in marketing materials. Reaching beyond borders to support arts organizations in other states was another idea under consideration.

Executive Director Daniel Fitzmaurice said the Arts Council will provide an online arts advocacy tool kit, and will not seek Great Give funds for the Arts Council, but will instead help drive support for the “arts sector” and convene an advocacy task force.

“We’re all in this together, with the AC as the convener and connector leading the way for the creative sector,” Fitzmaurice said. “We all have different focuses, but the Arts Council’s choice to not participate in the Great Give and push a collective advocacy campaign will greatly benefit our organizations and artists.”

The meeting fleshed out various concerns about the effects of cuts to programs and organizations including those at the national level, such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and other programs serving vulnerable populations, such as the Meals on Wheels program.

Arts leaders also voiced concern about budget cuts to their local programs. Mandi Jackson, Music Haven’s executive director, said her organization relies on donations through the Great Give and was concerned that donations this year were down, citing the public’s justified donations to organizations like Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and other Trump administration targets.

Jackson noted that approximately 40 percent of NEA funds support arts programs in low income communities. “If we don’t publicly support the arts,  the arts become something that are a privilege instead of a right,” she said. Jackson said that her organization gets small amounts of funding from the NEA and significant funds from other programs that are cut in the proposed budget.

“The kids we serve, their families rely on a whole bunch of other things that are also completely cut in this budget, whether food assistance, funds for after school programing, or community block grants. Public funding is the thing that makes the arts accessible for people who don’t have access to wealth — it’s very important,” she said.

Josh Borenstein, Long Wharf Theatre’s managing director, discussed the theater’s response to potential budget cuts, reiterating the messaging strategy of the Americans for the Arts, a national arts advocacy organization.

“No data point without a story, no story without a data point…. stories is what they’ll remember,” said Borenstein.

Mangini, from Rosa DeLauro’s office, reinforced Borenstein’s advice. He offered strategies for engaging members of Congress, advising that stories about real people and their reliance on programs like heating assistance provide an important tool for members of Congress. “If she [DeLauro] has the data and stories she needs to defend those in committee, it’s useful,” he said.

In a brief post-meeting interview, Andy Wolf framed the arts meeting as a “continuum of what’s happening across America where people had a wake-up call to take back the government,” urging proactive participation in defining and securing the role of the arts in society.

According to Fitzmaurice, arts advocacy will get a boost in the coming weeks. “We’re going to launch a full-scale campaign to support arts funding under the banner of Save the NEA in about 1.5 weeks, right in time for the Great Give,” he said.

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