Statement Regarding the Proposed Elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts
President Trump's first federal budget plan proposes eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. As Congress considers whether to follow the President's recommendations, we must publicly express that NEA support is crucial to the work of the A.R.T. We must also stress that the NEA advances the urgent national work of deepening our empathy for the great variety of stories lived across this country.
It is worth reiterating in any discussion of this issue both how comparatively minuscule federal American arts funding is and how vital that minuscule amount has proven. The NEA's entire budget in 2016—not only for theaters, but spread between our orchestras, dance troupes, museums, arts education programs, and more—was $148 million. That $148 million constitutes less than a hundredth of one percent of total federal spending in 2016 (which totaled $3.9 trillion).
That 0.003% of federal spending is what we must now fight for. And we will fight tenaciously, because it has proven a lifeline for so many. To attribute any single, simple purpose to the arts is to corrode a vibrant network of layered languages, of histories and hopes. And yet, when the government brazenly casts doubt on the survival of so many American arts institutions, something must be said about their civic utility.
The arts serve a vital purpose in our democracy. When we convene for any shared experience of art, we promise our full attention—most often offered with an open heart—to the words, bodies, and imaginations of others. This is a rare, generous act which an expanding and multicultural democracy requires ever more. As one audience member wrote after the A.R.T.'s recent production of Trans Scripts, Part I: The Women, "This is what I come to theater for—expanding my knowledge and understanding of my fellow citizens." That production, which celebrated the rich diversity of transgender experiences, was made possible by an NEA grant.
So many A.R.T. productions, which strive to empower this type of connection, would never have opened without NEA support. Trans Scripts, Nice Fish, Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1, 2 & 3), Witness Uganda, and The Glass Menagerie are the five most recent of 38 total A.R.T. projects enabled by NEA grants. Through block funding to the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the NEA also provides crucial operating support to the A.R.T.
If economic vitality is the bottom line in the President's considered cuts, there is still more to be said in the arts' defense. Analysis by the NEA demonstrates that federal arts funding creates a ripple effect in American communities: every $1 of federal funding leverages up to $9 additional of public and private support—to say nothing of the well-documented business generated in areas around arts institutions.
Financially and philosophically, the NEA furthers valuable goals, and now is the time for individuals to speak out on its behalf. As NEA Chairman Jane Chu pointed out in her statement last week, "As a federal government agency, the NEA cannot engage in advocacy, either directly or indirectly." We, however, along with a family of collaborators—including artists and audience advocates across the country—do plan to speak out. This week, arts representatives from a range of institutions are joining Americans for the Arts in Washington DC for Arts Activism Day. On March 28, A.R.T. staff and artists will walk together on the Boston Common for MASSCreative's Arts Matter Advocacy Day. As frequently and for as long as it takes, we will continue expressing our reliance on the NEA to our representatives at a local and national level. We personally invite you to join us in all of these efforts.
March 21, 2017