Private, philanthropic investment in the arts may become even more important next year if the National Endowment for the Arts is eliminated from the federal budget, as proposed by President Donald Trump on Thursday.

Smaller, less established organizations will feel the cut deeper than larger institutions, local leaders told the Rivard Report this week, but all will feel the symbolic loss of national support.

“We are disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every Congressional District in the nation,” read a statement from NEA Chairman Jane Chu posted on the NEA’s website.

“We understand that the President’s budget request is a first step in a very long budget process; as part of that process we are working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prepare information they have requested. At this time, the NEA continues to operate as usual and will do so until a new budget is enacted by Congress.”

Savor the Arts, an art and food-filled party at the Southwest School of Art (SSA), has been raising money for the school’s children’s arts programs since the school had a different name and fewer studios.

At SSA, the NEA funds a portion of the children’s programs and projects that provide art lessons to the underserved, a small part of the organization’s $5 million budget.

The arts have a $5.5 billion impact on the Texas economy, according to the Texas Cultural Trust’s 2017 State of the Arts Report. Since its founding in 1965, the NEA has distributed more than $5 billion worth of support for art communities across the U.S.

“The small grants given out by the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) stimulate further giving at the state and local level and affirm the significance of arts and culture in our lives,” SSA President Paula Owen told the Rivard Report.

She’s also more concerned about the symbolic loss for the country were the NEA to be demolished than the funding it provides the school.

“I care about this because the NEA and NEH symbolize our country’s commitment to access, creativity, community, history, and heritage – for all,” Owen said.

Joci Straus, founder of Las Casas Foundation who was appointed to serve on the National Council for the Arts under former president George H. W. Bush, said that “eliminating the arts would be like taking away any air that we breathe. There would be no theater, dance or song to sing.”

Los Angeles artist, performer, and filmmaker Wu Tsang is one of the Spring 2016 Artist-in-Residence with her piece You Said Legend. Photo by Kathryn Boyd-Batstone
Los Angeles artist, performer, and filmmaker Wu Tsang was one of Artpace’s Spring 2016 Artists-in-Residence with her piece You Said Legend. Artpace receives funding from NEA. Credit: Kathryn Boyd-Batstone / San Antonio Report

The NEA’s approximately $148 million budget accounts for only .004% of the federal budget.

Doing away with the NEA would not do away with the arts entirely, but several arts organization leaders said it would wreak havoc on the nation’s reputation.

“What this means symbolically for the nation is catastrophic,” said Cristína Balli, executive director of the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center. “We will be probably the only developed nation in the world that does not publicly support the arts and the intellectual advancement of its society. We are extremely concerned about this proposal. ”

The Guadalupe and other established institutions such as the San Antonio Symphony, San Antonio Museum of Art, Opera San Antonio, and National Association of Latino Arts & Culture (NALAC), would take a hit should the proposed cuts make it through  Congress’ budgeting process.

Click here to view a list of organizations and projects that have received NEA funding between 1998 and 2016. The list is 68 pages long.

Trump’s proposed budget would also eliminate the NEH, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which presides over public television – PBS station KLRN in San Antonio – and radio, comprises only .001% of the federal budget, said Joyce Slocum, station manager of Texas Public Radio.

“That’s not how you’re going to balance the federal budget. Federal funding for public radio amounts to 30 cents per year per U.S. citizen,” she said. “You can’t buy a candy bar for that. So we feel like it’s a very good investment, the kind of public-private partnership that Ronald Reagan would have loved.”

Eliminating the NEA would more drastically affect small and rural arts organizations who rely on grants from the Texas Commission on the Arts, the state agency that grants mostly state-generated revenues to arts organizations. Nearly $1 million of its budget, just over 10%, comes from the NEA, said TCA Director of Communications Anina Moore.

“It’s money we’ve done a lot of good work with,” she said.

Aside from fewer funds to go around, losing the NEA would mean a loss of prestige that comes from receiving an NEA grant and would diminish arts groups’ ability to raise funds.

“It’s a stamp of approval,” said Maria López de León, president and CEO of NALAC, which has received several NEA grants for educational programs. NALAC is the only national organization that provides leadership education to Latino artists and arts groups. It has been based on San Antonio’s Westside throughout its nearly 20 years.

“This type of funding allows smaller groups to leverage funds from other sources,”de León said.

According to the NEA, 40% of the activities it supports take place in high-poverty neighborhoods.

Performers prepare to go on stage at La Villita.
Día de Muertos performers from the Guadalupe Cultural Arts Center prepare to go on stage at La Villita on Oct. 30, 2016. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

Opera San Antonio, in just its third season, has applied to the NEA for partial performance funding, which is the kind of grant that the performing arts rely on.

“We all need support, opera, and other performing arts, because ticket prices pay for no more than 50% of a production, so we must seek widespread support,” said Opera San Antonio board Vice Chairman Blair Labatt. “To the extent that the NEA is a source of support, not having it would put that much more pressure on us to find money elsewhere.”

The San Antonio Symphony has been under the same pressure to fund itself for most of its existence. It recently submitted a “significant” grant application to the NEA to fund a winter festival next season, said Symphony President and CEO David Gross, though its usual source of government revenue is through the TCA.

“If the NEA were to go away, I wouldn’t call the impact minimal because any loss of a funding stream has an impact,” he said.

Gross is more concerned about ancillary economic damage.

Cuts Could Spread Across Economy, Felt in Other Industries

“I think there’s always a perception that the arts are not a necessity,” he said. “But the reality is that it is a business. The arts create and support jobs, they generate tax revenue on local, state, and federal levels, and they encourage spending in the community and become an economic engine for whatever community a performing arts organization is serving.

Associate conductor of the San Antonio symphony, Akiko Fujimoto, gives a poetic overview of the first movement and a preview of the second Veracini Overture in the Baroque series at the San Fernando Cathedral. Photo by Bria Woods.
Associate Conductor Akiko Fujimoto gives a preview of the second Veracini Overture in the Baroque series at the San Fernando Cathedral. Credit: Bria Woods for the San Antonio Report

Gross said an economic impact study carried out by Americans for the Arts found that in addition to the Symphony’s 88 full-time musicians and the staff, it indirectly helps support 310 full-time jobs, such as restaurant servers, parking lot attendants, and lighting technicians. Jobs and economic growth are critical to the new administration’s policies – all the more reason for the federal government to continue support of the arts, he said.

“[Jobs and the economy] are two things the arts in our culture impact in a huge way. Government support for the arts through the NEA isn’t any different than when a community gives tax credits to a business coming in, because they’re offering a financial incentive,” Gross said. “If the arts organizations in this community suffer and can’t employ people and put on performances, it will have an impact – maybe not at the level as if [General Motors] failed to exist – but it will have a significant impact.”

While NEA funding is just one of many funding sources supporting NALAC, de León said, its loss would still have a big impact on her budget. She is equally concerned about the wider implications of cutting the NEA, NEH, and CPB. She and her staff have been “vigilant to see what policies would emerge from the current administration,” based on President Trump’s campaign promises.

“Cutting the NEA is part of a much larger framework beginning to erode our freedom and democratic values,” she said. “We’re working in solidarity with other national organizations, with our communities, to keep them informed, to create momentum, to ask them to advocate and be informed of the larger implications of what this administration is putting forth.”

Aside from the budgetary impact of eliminating the NEA, its defunding would have a spiritual impact on the life of the country, many arts leaders say.

Gemini Ink and KLRN recently presented a three-day workshop at Davis Middle School celebrating the late poet Maya Angelou. The project, “Still I Rise,” was recorded by KLRN and funded by the NEA.

“The kids wrote truly spectacular poetry,” Gemini Ink Executive Director Sheila Black stated in an email. “Beautiful broadsides were produced for display at Davis and in the local community. Everyone was so happy and proud. This is what art in community does – [it] spreads joy. But cutting the NEA means cutting KLRN, means cutting off the possibility of projects like this happening.

“There is a segment of our country that has become convinced that the arts are elitist and ‘a waste of money,’ but whether you love folk-dancing, violin concertos, bluegrass banjos, or making pottery, chances are the NEA has funded it in a way that gives you access to it. Writers and artists will keep creating one way or another, but this terrible decision cuts off access, cuts off that spark of inspiration that allows the arts to grow and flourish across our great country.”

Black added that without NEA funding, the literary nonprofit would have to shrink its programming.

Local art advocates will join colleagues nationwide to raise their voices at Arts Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. on March 20 and 21. Click here for more information.

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Nancy Cook-Monroe

Nancy Cook-Monroe is a local freelance writer and public relations consultant. She has written about San Antonio arts and civic scenes since she could hold a pencil.