Janice Sinden: Eliminating NEA would be bad for our economy

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Janice Sinden. Photo by Adams VisCom

When it passed The National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965, Congress declared that the arts belong to all people of the United States. That the encouragement of scholarship and progress in the arts is an appropriate matter of concern to the federal government. That an advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.

That was a noble American statement. A devout but perhaps expendable wish now that, 52 years later, the federal government faces an $18 trillion deficit.

But a federal budget is more than a ledger of dollars and cents. It is an emphatic statement of a nation’s collective values and priorities. And the value President Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society embraced in 1965 was the vital importance of the arts to the lifeblood of a healthy democracy.

Janice Sinden Quote NEAThe arts are certainly a shared value in Colorado, which ranks No. 1 in the country in the percentage of adults who perform, attend or create artwork. The creative industries are the fifth-largest employment sector in Colorado. 

But on March 16, the White House released a budget blueprint for fiscal year 2018 that would eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.  And that would be a value statement of its own. A chilling one that would be bad not only for our heads and hearts, but for our economy. These threatened organizations account for a negligible sliver of the federal budget, and yet they play a vital role in our national cultural economy. The NEA’s $148 million budget funds programming in more than 16,000 communities in every Congressional district in the United States. And it’s merely seed money. The NEA generates another 600 million in public and private matching funds each year that are invested in local communities, helping to shape a $730 billion arts and culture industry that represents 4.2 percent of the nation’s GDP and supports 4.8 million jobs, according to Americans for the Arts.

Denver metro arts, cultural and scientific organizations generated  $1.8 billion in annual economic activity in 2015, according to a biennial study conducted by the Colorado Business Committee for the Arts.

The arts are not a subsidy. They are an economic engine.

The elimination of federal funding would impact Colorado’s cultural assets, our prosperity and our state identity.  Creative jobs in our state numbered 139,096 in 2015 and accounted for $7.2 billion in earnings, according to the Colorado Creative Industries, which operates largely on NEA funding. Our music industry alone creates more than 16,000 jobs and $658 million in earnings.

If the NEA is eliminated, thousands of programs will be endangered in communities across the country:  A community orchestra performance, a new work from an emerging playwright, art therapy for returning war veterans, local library classes in Braille, free standardized-test preparation … not to mention Bert and Ernie from Sesame Street.

The NEA has awarded 147,000 grants and $5 billion in its history.

Dragon Boat Visit DenverColorado Creative Industries received about $1.5 million in NEA funding last year. It matches those funds and then sends them out all over the state. Last year, NEA funding supported 237 creative nonprofits, creative districts, individuals and businesses in Colorado. Recipients included Phamaly Theatre Company, which makes performance opportunities for actors with disabilities; Youth on Record, which exists to address the national dropout crisis (pictured below); ArtCorps, which provides art mentoring to homeless teens through RedLine in Five Points; Su Teatro, Denver’s only Chicano theatre company; the Denver Indigenous Film & Arts Festival; the Colorado Dragon Boat Festival (pictured above courtesy of Visit Denver), and the Crested Butte Music Festival.

YOR NEA funding also provides general operating support for mountain and rural groups ranging from the Pueblo Symphony Association to Ridgway’s Sherbino Theater to the Crow Luther Cultural Events Center in Eads to the Creede Repertory Theatre to the M12 artist collective in Byers.

The arts not only change lives. They repair them.

Denver is blessed and unique among metropolitan centers because of the newly reauthorized, citizen-activated Scientific and Cultural Facilities District, which generates $56.6 million a year for local arts and science organizations. But while programming supports residents statewide, it only is directly appropriated among organizations based in the seven-country metro area. If this budget is enacted, rural areas, low-income communities and schools would disproportionately suffer. In Colorado, 44 percent of NEA awards went to rural and small communities across the state and approximately 38 percent of the funds supplemented arts education programs in low-income areas.

Right now in Washington, a significant and understandable movement is underway to reduce the federal government’s role in American life. Even some who champion the arts also applaud the reduction of federal arts funding in the naïve belief that the gap will surely be made up through individual giving. That hope is a bit far-fetched because the proposed budget will leave many other worthy federal departments and agencies also fighting for their share. That will undoubtedly put increased strain on philanthropic funding for a large range of social services, including health care and education. Everyone will have a hand out.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper has said the NEA “allows an organization or an individual to do something that otherwise would be impossible.” We encourage residents of Colorado to tell members of Congress not to make art impossible again.

Editor’s Note: A shorter version of this editorial ran in The Denver Post on April 2. The DCPA NewsCenter offers a regular guest column from a variety of local and national voices covering a wide range of theatre topics. To submit a proposed guest column, email your name and topic to jmoore@dcpa.org.

What can you do to help?
If you would like to voice your support for retaining the National Endowment for the Arts, visit the Americans for the Arts web site where you can sign a petition, contact your legislators and track legislation.

National Endowment for the Arts: Colorado impact

In collaboration with Colorado Creative Industries, the National Endowment for the Arts looks at the arts and culture of Colorado.

About our Guest Columnist: Janice Sinden

Janice Sinden. Photo by Adams VisComJanice Sinden is the President and CEO of the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, the largest non-profit theatre organization in the nation. She is a fourth-generation Coloradan who was born and raised in Fort Collins. She graduated from Rocky Mountain High School, and then the University of Northern Colorado with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Political Science, after which, she moved to Washington, D.C. to work for then U.S. Senator Wayne Allard. Before coming to the DCPA, she served as Chief of Staff for Denver Mayor Michael B. Hancock for five years. Before that, she served as the Executive Director of Colorado Concern; co-founded Pinnacle Public Affairs; served as the Manager of Community Relations, Corporate Communications for Sharp HealthCare; co-founded EPIC (Executives Partnering to Invest in Children); and co-led the effort to establish the Colorado Foreclosure Hotline. 

Selected previous Guest Columns:

Judy Craymer on the origins of Mamma Mia!
Douglas Langworthy on ‘translating’ Shakespeare: First, do no harm
David Nehls: Live theatre returns to Elitch Gardens after 24 years
Gillian McNally: Colorado’s oldest theatre celebrates Artistic Director Tom McNally
Margie Lamb on the Henry Awards: Something doesn’t add up
Bryan VanDriel on Lloyd Norton: A name that will live on in Greeley
Jessica Jackson on Creede Repertory Theatre’s 50th anniversary season
Susan Lyles on 10 years of staging plays for women in Denver

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