Our Eyes on the Prize: The National Endowment for the Arts

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If like me you sometimes only read an article’s first paragraph, I ask you to please call your elected officials in the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Demand that they continue to fund the National Endowment for the Arts. Cite the reasons for which arts funding is essential in your community. Call them now. Call them every day.

For those of you who continue to read on, I’m glad we’re connecting. But I’m not glad for the reason.

It seems that the future is potentially uncertain for the National Endowment for the Arts, the federal agency of the arts and arts education. In recent years, a primary goal for arts advocates has been to increase appropriations for the NEA. Now, it seems we might have to fight just to keep it alive.

After speaking with some people at the NEA and doing my own research, it seems that the best thing to do is communicate with our leaders in Congress. And while it’s important to keep a watchful eye on the President, I suggest that energy spent being alarmed by the Executive Branch should be redirected towards taking actions with Congress.

Calling a Member of Congress

Once again, here is a website that can tell you who your elected officials are and how to contact them.

When a staff member answers your call, state your name and say that you are a constituent. Then, ask the staff member, “Is [Member of Congress] committed to funding the National Endowment for the Arts in the Federal Budget for Fiscal Year 2018?”

  • If the answer is that s/he is committed to funding the NEA, express your appreciation and give your reasons for which arts funding is essential in your community.
  • If the answer is that s/he is not yet committed, give your reasons for which arts funding is essential in your community. Express that you hope s/he chooses to support the NEA.
  • If the answer is that s/he is committed to defunding the NEA, express your disapproval and give your reasons for which arts funding is essential in your community. Express that you hope this Member of Congress will change his/her mind, and that his/her decision on this issue will impact how you vote in the next election.

Call now. Call every day.

So, what are the reasons for which arts funding is essential in your community?

This is by no means a complete list. But it’s a start…

Good for the Economy.

According to the NEA, 4.2% of the USA’s Gross Domestic Product was related to arts and culture production in 2013. ($704.2 Billion) And this should come as no surprise. Attending cultural institutions/events is often accompanied by dinner and/or drinks. Some people like to buy new clothes for the occasion. And most people have to pay for a parking spot or the light rail. The arts are good for business.

Improves the Lives of Many.

In 2016, 40% of NEA-supported activities took place in high-poverty neighborhoods. 36% of NEA grants reached underserved populations such as people with disabilities, people in institutions, and veterans. And 33% of NEA grants served low-income audiences. Sure, I might be reading off of a cheat-sheet. But it’s no secret that communities rely on the NEA.

There is a wonderful interactive map on the NEA’s website that brings you personal accounts from all over the country of how the arts have improved their lives. A terrific example is from a staff member of Miriam’s Kitchen, a social service agency that works to end chronic homelessness in DC. With the help of the DC Commission on the Arts and Humanities, with which the NEA partners, art therapy has become an effective resource. Referencing a specific guest for six years who now maintains his own home:

[Art therapy] became his way to express himself when he wasn’t up for talking. He began with mandalas (sacred circles) and moved on to jewelry making. And it became the foundation for our case managers to earn his trust, and to help him consider accepting permanent supportive housing.

Arts Education Shapes Students.

The discipline to self-sufficiently master new skills. Collaboration with peers. Making presentations. Optimizing the centers of the brain committed to creativity, problem-solving, spacial tasks, communication, and critical thinking. These are just some of the ways that arts education positively impacts a student’s life and abilities.

A painting of ship in rough waters in the ocean. The water is dark green, except for the whites of the waves. The sky is a lighter teal except for the white clouds. The ship is on the right, sailing away from us. There is an anchor in front of us and a barrel to the left, both of which appear to have been discarded.

There are other ways to get involved, too. The NEA has the Art Works Blog and a weekly podcast.

I’d also like to make a plug for Americans for the Arts, an organization that does a terrific job conducting research and mobilizing advocacy.

While I’ve chosen a gloomy topic (and a gloomy image to accompany it), I want to say that I remain quite optimistic. This isn’t the first time the NEA’s fate has been uncertain, and yet the agency celebrated its 50th anniversary two years ago.

There is also already a substantial amount of support from Members of Congress. Check out this bipartisan letter to the President from 24 U.S. Senators, who are in full support of both the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities (which is also potentially on the chopping-block, unfortunately.)

These federal agencies provide vital support and resource to endeavors in the arts and humanities across the country that serve as drivers of innovation and economic prosperity.

And as always, this blog isn’t meant to be “the be all and end all” authority for any of this. If there is anything you’ve read that makes you go “Yes, but…” or “Ugh, no!”, please as always, leave a comment below. My intent is not to stand on a soapbox, but rather productively contribute to our cause.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes, which you can find inscribed on the walls of the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

I look forward to an America which will reward achievement in the arts as we reward achievement in business or statecraft. I look forward to an America which will steadily raise the standards of artistic accomplishment and which will steadily enlarge cultural opportunities for all of our citizens. And I look forward to an America which commands respect throughout the world not only for its strength but for its civilization as well.
-President John F. Kennedy

About Doug Rosenthal

No one told Douglas Rosenthal to give up playing music. Not even his patient siblings, who endured many early-morning practice sessions; even they encouraged their brother to follow his passion. As the years passed, that passion evolved from simply playing music to advocating for music, musicians, and music-lovers. Douglas is based in Washington, DC. He is the Assistant Principal Trombonist of the Kennedy Center Opera House Orchestra/Washington National Opera Orchestra. He currently makes his home on Capitol Hill in DC with a pug named Jake, who serves as a constant reminder to relax, eat well, and sleep plentifully.

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3 thoughts on “Our Eyes on the Prize: The National Endowment for the Arts”

  1. Thanks for providing the links to contact my Senators and Representative. It took all of 10 minutes to call and email all of them.

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