State of the Arts Part 3

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

Last year, Sarasota Opera set a world record and made international headlines with its completion of the Verdi Cycle, becoming the only company in the world to play every note that Giuseppe Verdi wrote and netting Sarasota Opera Maestro Victor DeRenzi a knighthood from the Italian government for his role through the decades-long project. But that doesn’t mean Sarasota Opera doesn’t benefit from organizations like the NEA.

“It really does have an impact on what we’re doing,” says Sarasota Opera Executive Director Richard Russell, who says that the company has received grants almost annually since 2008 to support everything from commissions and revivals to programs like Sarasota Youth Opera and the American Opera Series. This season, an NEA grant helped fund production of Dialogues of the Carmelites. All are matching grants, says Russell, but that initial push from the federal government builds the company’s reputation and plays a crucial role in securing additional funding. “That’s something that can’t be quantified,” he says, “but is just as important.”

But there’s more at stake than just the NEA, as Ringling Museum Executive Director Steven High reminds. “We receive funds from all of the federal agencies that support arts and culture and museums in our country,” he says, noting that it was a combination of grants from the NEA, the NEH and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS)—also on the chopping block—that made this year’s Feast for the Senses exhibition possible. And a grant from the IMLS announced in September will help the museum fund the creation of storage racks to bring an additional 160 paintings from its collection on-site for research and viewing. “It’s a big loss for us, were those institutions to go away,” says High. The dollar impact won’t be “devastating,” he adds, but support for the arts means more than money.

“The support from the NEA is much more than a simple grant,” says Michael Donald Edwards, artistic director at Asolo Repertory Theatre. “The NEA represents the United States government saying to all of us who work in the arts and all of us who consume the arts that the arts matter.” And it’s that message that Edwards fears losing more than funding, which he says is not strictly necessary for the theater to operate. “It is an insistence that American art and culture is as important in informing an American idea as it is to join the military,” he says. “We are part of the American flag too.”

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