State of the Arts Part 1

Arts and Culture


The White House this month proposed a budget calling for the elimination of three cultural agencies: the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). While the impact to the federal budget would be negligible, the cultural impact at the community level could be more pronounced. This is the first in a three-part series examining that possible impact.

With a combined budget of $741 million for the year 2016 ($445 for the CPB and $148 each for the NEA and NEH), the proposed cuts make up approximately 0.02 percent of the total federal budget. But since 1999, the NEA alone has directly invested more than $1.3 million in the arts in just the city of Sarasota, affecting everything from cultural organizations to artistic institutions and even individual artists, many of which would also feel its loss.

“I’m dismayed,” says Emmy Award-winning Jazz pianist Dick Hyman, who was named a 2017 NEA Jazz Master this year alongside greats such as Dee Dee Bridgewater, Dave Holland and Dr. Lonnie Smith for an extensive resume including seven MVP Awards from the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, becoming composer of choice for Woody Allen’s early work and playing with Charlie Parker on Parker’s only television appearance. “I’m terrifically honored,” says Hyman, who will soon travel to the Kennedy Center to receive the award and attend an honorary concert. “And now it may be in peril altogether.”

Local institutions may also feel the effects, even established organizations such as the Sarasota Ballet. “The NEA is the support system for all of the arts organizations in America,” says Sarasota Ballet Director Iain Webb, who previously sat on the NEA selection panel and attests to the group’s “depth of commitment” in considering every grant application. The Sarasota Ballet itself has received several grants, according to NEA records, and Webb confirms their significance. “Since 2010, the NEA has played an important role in helping the Sarasota Ballet bring the works of Sir Frederick Ashton to American audiences,” he says. “We have performed 24 of his ballets in Sarasota, New York, Maine, Massachusetts and Washington, D.C., which has been a significant factor in building the company’s national and international reputation.”

But losing the NEA means losing a lot more than just a handful of grants, according to Jim Shirley, executive director at the Arts and Cultural Alliance of Sarasota County. “A lot of people don’t realize that the NEA funds about 40 percent of the budgets of all of the state arts councils and local arts agencies,” he says. While the NEA will bestow direct grants every year, much of its funding is allocated to the budgets of smaller organizations with similar goals but a closer connection to the community, organizations such as the Arts and Cultural Alliance. These groups can then use those funds to support local projects or even to kickstart an even grander campaign with a solid foundation. “That trickle-down effect is where the biggest financial impact comes,” says Shirley, especially for small communities like Sarasota. But even more damaging, he says, beyond any financial setbacks, would be the message sent by defunding the NEA and programs like it, that art and culture are not important in this country. Says Shirley: “What a crime that would be.”

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