With Federal Budget Process Looming, It’s Time to Speak Up for the Arts


On March 16, the Trump administration released its budget blueprint for the 2018 fiscal year (Oct. 1, 2017-Sept. 30, 2018). Called “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” this plan outlined President Donald Trump’s priorities as they relate to discretionary federal government spending.

While the plan detailed his spending priorities – an increase in military spending by approximately $54 billion, additional resources for constructing a wall between Mexico and the United States, and increased funding to address violent crime and reduce opioid abuse – it also included Trump’s suggestions on how Congress could offset these increases. Rather than raise taxes or add to the federal deficit, the president proposed eliminating funding for other independent agencies.

Among the suggested eliminations are the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Combined, these federal agencies’ budgets amount to approximately $971 million, or 0.004 percent, of the government’s $4.268 trillion budget. Dollars from these agencies support nonprofit arts and cultural organizations across the country, as well as public television and radio.

While the endowments have faced budget cuts before, this is the first year since their creation in 1965 that their elimination has been broached.

In Wisconsin, grants from the NEA play an important role in funding artistic and cultural nonprofits. According to Arts Wisconsin, an independent statewide organization advocating for the arts, between fiscal years 2010 and 2016, the NEA awarded approximately $9 million in grant money to arts initiatives in Wisconsin. The NEA also provides 50 percent of the funding for the Wisconsin Arts Board (WAB), the state agency promoting the arts, with the remainder of WAB’s budget provided by the state. In fiscal year 2017, the NEA provided the WAB with $817,600.

Those funds trickle down to Door County through grants to arts, theater and performance organizations. From fiscal years 2012 to 2016, the WAB provided nearly $181,800 in grants (ranging from $2,000 to $13,000 each) to seven different Door County art, performance and theater organizations, from Peninsula Players Theatre to Peninsula School of Art.

The benefit of those grants extends beyond dollar amounts, as Peninsula Players managing director and Wisconsin Arts Board member Brian Kelsey explained.

“It adds credibility to an organization…to get a Wisconsin Arts Board grant, you have to be fiscally sound,” Kelsey said. “You’ve got to go through a rigorous process to receive the grant dollars, you’ve got to be vetted, you’ve got to then go through the application process. There’s a ton of questions. You then have to go through the peer review process and if you receive that, it means you’ve got your ducks in a row from an organization or individual standpoint, so does that help? Yes, because it adds the credibility to other donors.”

Donor support is critical to Door County nonprofits. With federal and state budgets tightening, that pinch is more often felt by artistic and cultural organizations whose impact on economies isn’t always apparent. That’s why the nonprofit Americans for the Arts has been studying the economic impact of nonprofit arts and culture organizations and their audiences through their project, Arts & Economic Prosperity.

Their latest study, which came out in 2010, details the economic impact of the organizations and their audiences in the state of Wisconsin. A few highlights:

  • total industry expenditures by arts and culture organizations and their audiences totaled $535,168,486 in fiscal year 2010
  • those expenditures supported 22,872 full-time equivalent jobs and $497,463,000 in household income paid to residents
  • event-related spending by arts and culture audiences totaled $195.1 million, excluding the cost of admission to events. These events were attended by 9,373,285 resident and non-residents.

This type of data encourages residents to see arts for more than what is presented on stage or in a gallery. Sharing that message has been a top priority for Anne Katz, executive director of Arts Wisconsin.

“In this day and age especially, the whole idea that the arts are something that is part of the economy, education and quality of life is a really important thing,” Katz said. “And Door County is a really great example of that because people live in Door County and come to Door County because there’s a lot to do in the arts, in the outdoors, everywhere and it’s a beautiful place. So the fact that you’ve got incredibly creative people making art and doing the arts, wonderful organizations presenting the arts, all of that is a big part of Door County’s economy so we definitely will always want to say and make sure that people understand that our main message is that the arts are important because the arts are important and it’s all about economical vitality, education for the 21st century, healthy communities, engaged residents.”

In the nearly two months since the release of Trump’s budget blueprint, fear that the NEA and other agencies could be abolished has inspired civic engagement across the country, with constituents contacting their representatives in support of the arts and humanities, and through donations to arts and cultural nonprofits.

That engagement was particularly important in April when the NEA, like other agencies, was facing potential mid-year cuts. But when Congress reached a bipartisan agreement on a bill to fund the federal government, the nation’s arts and cultural agencies not only didn’t get cut but many of them received funding increases. For NEA, it was an increase of nearly $2 million (from $148 million to $149.8 million).

WAB Executive Director George T. Tzougros credited the outpouring of support by citizens who spoke up about their values for boosting funding of arts and cultural agencies.

“After all is said and done, this is a great civic lesson for everybody to remember we live in a democracy and we’ve got a process that we go through to develop a budget,” Tzougros said. “The budget is a manifestation of what we value. We have a sign here in the office that says ‘Keep calm and create on,’ because ultimately that’s what’s going to happen over the summer. There are going to be excellent plays, wonderful music and gallery exhibitions, and museums for all the people that are going to come to Door County and all the people that live there. It’s going to be a fantastic summer and it’s something to look forward to, and while we’re looking forward to it, it’s remembering the stories of what we’ve just seen to communicate both to educate our legislators and Congresspeople but also to provide the gratitude, to say to those folks, ‘Hey, I know you had decisions to make for the budget and we really appreciate that you chose to support the endowment or the Arts Board specifically because it made a difference to us and to our community.’”

With five months to go in the budget process, Katz echoed those sentiments and encouraged residents not to rest on their laurels.

“We have to make sure the NEA still exists because if the NEA didn’t exist, I don’t know if the Arts Board would exist or that there would be that funding but again, that’s the worst-case scenario,” Katz said. “A lot can happen between now and September, a lot will happen, and I think that…we have to speak up for what’s important. We have to make sure that people know this is a threat and we have to work against it and that our voices can be heard so our advocacy for the state and for the federal funding of the arts or investment in the arts is all connected because that’s how things work. In general, I’m going to be optimistic that we can make sure that these things continue.”

Related Organizations

Article Comments