President Trump threatens arts funding, American people speak up

NEW PALTZ, N.Y. — President Trump’s national budget blueprint could rip away more than $17 million in annual funding for the arts in New York State, a devastating blow to regions across the state like the Hudson Valley. But the art community is not going down without a fight.

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is one of several federal agencies for the arts—including the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services—on the chopping block in Trump’s “America First” 2018 budget proposal. The NEA funds important programs across the nation, including afterschool art programs for at-risk youth and art therapy programs for veterans.

Jane Chu, the NEA chairman, said in a 2016 letter to former President Barack Obama that the NEA has awarded more than $5 billion toward community art projects throughout the United States since the endowment was established by Congress in 1965.

Hudson Valley’s own Women’s Studio Workshop, a nonprofit which brings international artists to the community to create art and work with local students, relies on the $50,000 the NEA has awarded it annually since 1980. According to the executive director and co-founder, Ann Kalmbach, the funds are essential to every single program they have.

Last year the NEA distributed almost $17 million throughout New York State. A hefty $751,675, the largest grant to a single organization in New York, went to the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). While $750k might seem a small part of NYSCA’s $5 million budget, losing it could have devastating impacts, especially at the local level.

“In rural areas we really depend on those funds,” said Connie Sullivan-Blum, executive director of the ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes. “When it gets to our level a small adjustment has a big impact.”

NYSCA, by its own proclamation, seeks to preserve and expand “artistic excellence and the creative freedom of artists” as well as “the rights of all New Yorkers to access and experience the power of the arts and culture.” The council accomplishes this mission by providing funds to large organizations, such as the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra, the Corning Museum of Glass, and the Children’s Museum of the Arts. NYSCA’s funds are also dispersed to regional arts councils, such as the Arts Services Initiative (ASI) of Western New York. These councils award grants to small, locally-based organizations, projects, artists and even schools. ASI, based in Buffalo, serves Erie, Niagara, Chautauqua, Cattaraugus, and Allegany counties.

Tod Kniazuk, executive director of ASI, claimed the danger is in the uncertainty. Funding could get cut equally across the board by giving out smaller grants, or NYSCA could become more selective in where to award the money. The latter could prove disastrous to art programs in small communities.

“It’s really hard to predict what comes next,” Kniazuk said.

Kniazuk hinted that loss of funding should not be our only concern. The threat of elimination of the NEA has larger implications: a lack of understanding by our federal administration of the economic necessity of the arts.

“Obviously the money is critical,” Kniazuk said, “but the scarier thing is we’ve got a president who doesn’t believe the arts deserve a seat at the federal table.”

Studies indicate that the arts help to drive the economy. In the year 2010 alone, a study by Americans for the Arts found that the industry contributed $135.2 billion to the national economy. That study said the arts supported nearly 4.2 million full-time jobs and $86.7 billion in household income. And those interacting with the arts as creators and consumers also generated more than $22 billion in tax revenue for local, state and federal governments.

While the federal administration might be oblivious to the importance of the arts, the American people are not.

On March 20 and 21, just days after Trump released his budget proposal, hundreds of New Yorkers from all over the state flocked to Washington D.C. for Arts Advocacy Day. The event, hosted by the nonprofit Americans for the Arts, allowed constituents to speak with their representatives, express their concerns and urge defensive action

People are even using major art events to fight Trump’s proposal.

New York City’s annual Frieze New York, an international art fair featuring renowned artists and galleries, teamed up with Americans for the Arts to #SAVEtheNEA. The fair, which ran May 5 to 7, encouraged attendees to sign a petition to the U.S. Congress and make donations to the Arts Action Fund. In addition, Frieze promised to match all visitors’ contributions to the fund.

In counties across the state people are rallying to support the arts and, more specifically, the NEA. They are organizing rallies outside of congressmen’s offices, contacting senators and state legislators, and writing letters to newspapers. People are making their voices heard.

As the 2018 budget approval date approaches, arts advocates and organizations will continue to contact their representatives, for it is Congress who ultimately decides the budget.

“This is an opportunity for democracy to work,” said Sullivan-Blum, executive director of the ARTS Council of the Southern Finger Lakes. “We have to speak up. For our children, for the vibrancy of our communities.”

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