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Trump's Cuts to the Arts: What Would be the Impact?

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Jun 12, 2017

A recent article in the Washington Post investigates some of the on-the-ground impacts of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and questions what a lack of NEA funding would mean for America. The article begins by noting that federal funding for culture (i.e. money allocated to the NEA, NEH, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and Institute of Museum and Library Services) amounts to about $970 million—a miniscule fraction of the overall budget. However, that relatively small amount of resources, according to the author, has a deeper impact than most observers realize.

Taking the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park in Wilson, N.C. as a case study, the article notes that the project—a series of large scale kinetic sculptures made from found objects—got off the ground with $469,000 in funding from the NEA. According to Wilson city officials, that initial grant helped leverage more than $7 million from public and private sources. Additionally, since the completion of the project, about $35 million has been invested in the downtown Wilson area—not far from the Whirligig Park. Officials credit the park with driving private investment.

According to the article, “With so much money flowing, it’s natural to question whether it all could have happened without the fraction provided by the NEA. But folks in Wilson say it’s hard to conjure now the uncertainty that existed at the beginning of the project, before the NEA provided one of the first grants.” One city council member noted that, before the NEA grant came through, he thought the project was “junk.”

The author goes on to speak with representatives of the Heritage Foundation. Their argument against federal funding for the arts hinges on the premise that private funding would fill in the gap. However, the Washington Post article’s case studies indicate that federal funding plays a unique role in the process of arts-based community development.

Ultimately, the article suggests that, absent the NEA, communities and organizations around the country would find it significantly more difficult to receive seed money for their programs, attract attention from potential donors, and deliver on their mission to bring arts to their communities.

You can read the full article here.
 

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