Here's How Trump's Proposed NEA Budget Cuts Will Affect Arizona Music Organizations

The Mesa Arts Center is one of several Valley organizations that have received money from the National Endowment for the Arts.EXPAND
The Mesa Arts Center is one of several Valley organizations that have received money from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Jim Louvau

The National Endowment for the Arts, an independent federal agency that — as their name implies — finances fine arts programs, just celebrated its 51st birthday. But it might not get to see number 52. Rumor on Capitol Hill is that the NEA will get President Trump’s budget-cutting ax, according to The Hill, a political newspaper in Washington, D.C.

The National Endowment for the Humanities may also be eliminated and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting will convert to private in sweeping federal spending cuts, reported to total $10.5 trillion over the next decade. With a budget of $146 million in 2015 — almost a third of what the U.S. military spends on marching bands alone — the NEA makes up about “0.004 percent of the overall federal budget, or 46 cents per American per year,” according to Pitchfork.

So if all that funding goes away, how will that affect Arizona? Since 1998, the NEA has awarded nearly 40 music-related grants totaling more than $630,000 to Arizona organizations, according to the agency’s online database. Those organizations include the Grand Canyon Association ($10,000), Musical Instrument Museum ($10,000), the Phoenix Boys Choir Association ($15,000), Phoenix Symphony Association ($228,000), and Western Jazz Presenters Network Inc. ($110,000).

“I hope the [Trump] administration will look very closely at what the ramifications are of dismantling that agency,” says Cindy Ornstein, executive director of Mesa Arts Center and director of arts and culture for the city of Mesa. “This is not the first time the NEA and the NEH have been discussed as possible areas for budget cuts. In the past, citizens have risen up to voice their concerns because there was recognition, not only [from] individuals, but businesses across the country, that these institutions that get funded through these grants provide so many important benefits to communities.”

Those community benefits include things like free public events and education outreach, such as bringing music and dance programs to low-income schools. The NEA says this kind of access to arts curricula results in higher grades, better job placement opportunities, and more civic engagement.

For example, Mesa Arts Center is currently planning D-Lab Festival, a prototyping convention that aims to make downtown Mesa livable and more pedestrian-friendly, with deeper connections to public space. You know, kind of the exact opposite of what’s happening on Roosevelt Row in Phoenix. Mesa Arts Center also collaborates with Jazz at Lincoln Center artists and Arizona State University professors for their Jazz From A To Z program, a way of teaching approximately 1,500 elementary to high school students history using jazz.

To host both these projects, the NEA awarded Mesa Arts Center two grants totaling $90,000, but our own state agency, the Arizona Commission on the Arts, also matches some of those funds — for a total of $137,000. Yet other organizations, especially those that are all volunteer-based, could be hit even harder.

“We would make a pledge here to do everything we could to try to figure out how to maintain as much of that programming that we could, and we would obviously be forced to turn to the community to help us do that,” Ornstein says, adding, “There are many organizations for whom, as a percentage of budget, that hit would be bigger.”

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The Phoenix Symphony, the Musical Instrument Museum, and other NEA grant recipients ignored numerous requests for a statement. The Phoenix Boys Choir declined to comment.

“I suspect that there will be a very big advocacy effort to try to communicate what those benefits [of NEA grants] are,” Ornstein says. “I hope that the elected officials who have a role in making that decision will listen carefully to understand the impact of what they’re talking about.”

Troy Farah is on Twitter and has a website that is coincidentally named after him.

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