State of the Arts Part 2

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 second in a three-part series examining that possible impact.

The loss of these cultural agencies would extend beyond the stages and galleries dotted across town and into the classrooms, where students have in the past benefitted in terms of materials and opportunities made possible by the NEA.

“It’s a huge loss,” says Dr. Larry Thompson, president of Ringling College of Art and Design. The college has no current grant with the NEA, but in the past has received many, including a four-year grant ending in 2015 that totaled just over $200,000. Ringling College was able to match that funding at a ratio of three to one and fund a series of scholarships for underprivileged youth looking to attend an art and design college. That’s tangible impact, but even more “tremendous,” according to Thompson, is the symbolic impact that an NEA endorsement can have on fundraising and reputation. And that’s something he’ll miss more than the funding.

“It signifies a lack of understanding of the importance of arts and culture in our society,” Thompson says, “and that’s the really troublesome piece, because arts and culture are where the heart and soul are.”

Alongside institutional offerings such as scholarships, the loss of the NEA and agencies like it would have scattered effects across the country, even reaching into individual classrooms. Dr. Amy Reid, a professor of French literature at New College of Florida, has for the last 16 years dedicated time not teaching to translating the works of the Cameroonian writer Patrice Nganang from French to English, completing two novels and an assortment of shorter pieces already. She uses these in her class, where she teaches students in both French and English.

“I wanted to be sure that my students who read in English, and the broader public, had access to beautiful and meaningful works of literature,” says Reid. Currently, and with help from a grant from the NEA, Reid is translating a third of Nganang’s novels exploring the history of Cameroon, particularly around the time of Charles De Gaulle and the Free French Forces. “We need to recognize that the NEA, the NEH and the CPB have huge impacts across our country,” she says, “and when we support artists, we are making the world of art accessible. This is something we should value.”

Thompson also sees the move to defund as shortsighted at a time when the future needs innovation and dreamers who can imagine the world of tomorrow. “One of the biggest things we need in our society is creativity,” he says. “It’s needed in all industries and the arts are really the epicenter of creative thought.”

“The arts are where it all begins.”

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