It’s been an interesting couple of days here in Rhode Island, particularly when you juxtapose certain events with news items.
As many of you know, President Obama has presented his 2012 budget to Congress, and it contains considerable cuts in the arts and humanities. Here’s something from a recent statement by Americans for the Arts President and CEO Robert Lynch:
“The administration request of $146 million for the National Endowment for the Arts is a decrease of $21 million from the $167.5 million that Congress appropriated last year. The arts community recognizes the shared sacrifice being asked of all federal agencies to help reduce our national debt and is willing to do its part. President Obama had acknowledged in his State of the Union that it was time to prioritize and identify the programs and agencies that work and invest in them to ‘win the future.’ The NEA is one of those agencies. It helps create jobs and drive economic activity by leveraging modest but critical funds at the state and local level and is part of the solution to returning our economic vitality.”
And here’s a look at what this means, from this year’s appropriation (still a continuing resolution, not a real appropriation) to the President’s proposal for next year:
|Key Federally Funded Arts Program||FY 2010 Enacted
|FY 2012 President’s
|National Endowment for the Arts||$167.5||$146|
|National Endowment for the Humanities||$167.5||$146|
|Institute of Museum and Library Services||$32*||$32|
|U.S. Dept. of Education’s Arts in Education||$40||$0**|
|Corporation for Public Broadcasting||$460||$451|
It was interesting to hear this news following a very productive visit to Rhode Island from National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Rocco Landesman last Friday. Organized by our wonderful U.S. Senator, Sheldon Whitehouse (who spent the whole day with the Chairman – how many times has a U.S. Senator devoted a whole day to anything?), Rocco got a chance to see how Rhode Island buys into his theme of “Art Works“.
A morning session at The Rhode Island Foundation gave the Chairman a sense of how well Rhode Islanders understand the value of the arts. We “get” (using the Chairman’s phrase) that arts jobs are real jobs, and that those jobs help to generate income for Rhode Island’s economy. It was great to hear Keith Stokes from the RI Economic Development Corporation also stress their believe that the arts are an important player in our state’s economy, and that our new Governor, Lincoln Chafee, also understands the need to invest and grow this sector.
Following the morning session with members of the arts community, we all went to visit the Rhode Island School of Design. This was a cool visit in many ways. We stopped in at one of RISD’s technology studios, where students have used a wall sized computer device similar to the screens used in the movie Minority Report to create and manipulate images. Chairman Landesman put on the gloves to try it out himself.
We also visited the RISD Nature Lab, a wonderful space full of creatures (most stuffed or preserved) that help train art students in the shapes and biology of living creatures. Senator Whitehouse was intrigued by the skull of a whale.
RISD President John Maeda hosted a lunch with the Chairman, Senator Whitehouse, and the Mayors of Cranston, Pawtucket, Warwick and the Chief of Staff for Mayor Tavares of Providence. (Here Chairman Landesman is meeting Mayor Avedesian of Warwick). This was a great opportunity to make the case that the arts and design can help cities and towns in many ways – certainly making them more attractive and liveable, but also – as President Maeda pointed out – helping Mayors communicate vital information to their citizens in clear and direct ways through the power of design. We can build on this with these leaders.
The next visit, and perhaps the one that was most meaningful to the Chairman as a theatre person, was a visit to Trinity Rep, our state’s repertory theatre company. Here a group of theatre artists – currently performing Arthur Miller’s “The Crucible” – told the Chairman how important it was for artists to live and work in a community. Sure, the theatre contributes to our state’s economy (and Trinity had the owners of several nearby businesses and parking establishments there to underscore that point). But the actors and production staff are all Rhode Islanders, living and earning and contributing to live in our state. This was an important point to consider as we think how “Art Works” in Rhode Island and elsewhere.
From Trinity Rep we went to visit Gallery Z in Providence’s Federal Hill, where the Chairman met several artists who are part of the Networks program organized by Dr. Joseph Chazan. After that, a visit to the East Providence home of the Rhode Island Philharmonic and Music School, where the Chairman saw firsthand how a symphony orchestra, committed to excellence and its own series of performances, can be equally committed to training the next generation of artists and audiences, regardless of their economic situation.
Finally, a visit to Pawtucket to see how an entire city commits itself to the arts as a way to turn around a community. The Chairman and Senator visited Hope Artiste Village, an old mill building that has reinvented itself as a creative community for artists and craftspeople, just one example in a city full of creative energy.
I guess the reason I spent time documenting the Chairman’s visit is to underscore the irony of the efforts going on in Washington to either reduce or completely eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (and the Humanities Endowment). Sure these are difficult times. But for literally pennies (frankly, half pennies), our governments – state and federal – get an incredible deal. They get unparalleled economic vitality. They get strong, documented value to education for all our citizens. And they get a remarkable quality of life.
Here in Rhode Island arts funding at the state level is 7/100ths of one percent of all state general fund spending. The result is hundreds of millions of dollars in economic activity, not to mention a state we all love living in.
Stop the foolishness. Recognize the arts for what they contribute to us all, and support them, particularly during these difficult times.