Arts funding in Arizona will be significantly affected if President Donald Trump’s proposed budget cuts move forward.
That’s because Trump's blueprint budget for 2018 eliminates four cultural agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts (or NEA, for short). The NEA funds state art agencies, including Arizona Commission on the Arts. But it also gives directly to arts organizations such as museums and theater companies.
Trump released his budget blueprint on Thursday, March 16. The blueprint axes all federal funding for the NEA, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The blueprint is basically a precursor to a formal budget proposal. The proposal will be released later this year. And the arts funding issue is one of many factors that Congress will consider when going through the budget process.
The commission manages the Arizona Poet Laureate program, awards grants to artists and arts groups, and helps fund programs that serve students, seniors, and other Arizonans.
It received $797,900 in NEA funding during fiscal year 2016, and $833,000 during fiscal year 2017, says Bob Booker, executive director for Arizona Commission on the Arts. For fiscal year 2016, that amount represents about a third of the agency’s total budget. But for fiscal year 2017, it's closer to a fifth. The agency’s 2016 budget was smaller, which means that the NEA’s contributions had greater impact.
Recent grants awarded directly to Arizona art groups include $30,000 to the Scottsdale Cultural Council for Canal Convergence 2017, $10,000 awarded to the Phoenix Film Foundation for the 2017 Phoenix Film Festival, and $10,000 awarded to Tempe-based Childsplay for its 2017 production of David Saar’s play The Yellow Boat.
Responses from arts and cultural agencies followed last week's release of Trump's budget blueprint. Here in Arizona, that included a March 16 letter issued by Booker on behalf of Arizona Commission on the Arts.
It reads, in part: “It is important to remember that the Legislative Branch ultimately decides how to allocate federal funds. This is not the final word; this is the beginning of a conversation. We encourage Arizonans to be active and enthusiastic participants in this dialogue.”
“People should be mindful of the fact that the budget blueprint has come out, and may influence some in Congress,” Booker says. “It’s a good time to let our elected officials know about the importance of the NEA.”
Recently, a group of artists and advocates did just that.
They gathered at the Arizona State Capitol on Tuesday, March 14, for something called the Arts Congress. Convened by Arizona Citizens for the Arts, a statewide arts advocacy organization, it included advocacy training and networking, plus appointments with Arizona legislators.
It all sounds rather esoteric, unless you have the big picture.
• 40 percent of NEA funding goes directly to states
• 60 percent of NEA funding goes to arts organizations and grants
• 40 percent of NEA-supported activities happen in high-poverty neighborhoods
• 36 percent of NEA grants go to underserved communities (such as veterans and people with disabilities)
For some people, arts and culture have inherent value. Others want to do the math.
For those who question the economic impact of arts and culture, Booker offers some impressive numbers from a recent study by Americans for the Arts. The study notes that nonprofit arts organizations contribute $500 million a year to the Arizona economy – including $300 million in the metro Phoenix area.
“We need to have conversations publicly, in the media, and with elected officials – about what public funding for the arts provides to communities,” Booker says. For him, it’s all about making the arts accessible to all, rather than just a few.
“This is a serious moment in our country,” Booker says. “We need to answer to it.”
Correction: A previous version of this article indicated that NEA funding had a greater impact on the Arizona Arts Commission during fiscal year 2017 because it made up a larger percentage of its budget. That was the case during fiscal year 2016.