To the Editor:
Municipalities across the country have slashed arts education in schools. Many have wiped it out completely. Small community arts organizations have valiantly attempted to replace what schools used to provide. In some towns, a children's community theater program replaced drama classes, while a community music center replaced the middle-school band. While these local arts organizations often received private support, they depended on state and local grants. But now this funding is also drying up. In many communities, there is nothing to replace eliminated school arts programs.
In the U.S., public funding for the arts is done mainly by the states. The National Assembly of State Arts Agencies reports that arts appropriations by all state agencies amount to $0.96 per person. Though arts appropriations are much too small to affect budget shortfalls, politicians repeatedly target the appropriations anyway. In the year ahead, Texas plans to reduce its arts budget by 77 percent; Wisconsin by 67 percent. Kansas will eliminate arts funding altogether. Even New York, with an economy that is driven by culture, will cut funding by 12 percent. Since National Endowment for the Arts statutes don't allow a state to receive a distribution without an arts budget, Kansas will receive no appropriation from the NEA either, leaving the arts without a penny of public support in that state.
Over all, the arts-agencies organization reports that "legislative appropriations to state arts agencies are expected to decrease by 5.8 percent (nationally) heading into fiscal year 2012." It may not sound like a lot, but "between 2011 and 2012, state arts agencies' funding will drop by a projected $15.9-million."
On the federal level, the NEA doles out about half as much money as do the states. In 2011, the NEA was appropriated $155-million by Congress, approximately $0.49 per person. The NEA plans to reduce its annual request by 11 percent in anticipation of increased Congressional hostility. When total state and federal arts appropriations are combined, they come to about $1.45 per person. Since they have a negligible effect on overall budgets, we question whether any cuts to arts funding are wise at time when economic activity is slackening.
Nonprofit arts organizations should be viewed as what they are—small businesses that incubate new enterprises such as theater companies, cultural centers, and performance spaces. These in turn support a multitude of ancillary jobs in local businesses, including design firms, restaurants, and shops of all kinds. Arts organizations keep local dollars local.
These cuts strike at the heart of who we are. Our national and local arts infrastructure, painstakingly built over the last few generations, is being dismantled. We urge you to protect it by contacting your elected officials.
Benjamin E. Juarez
Manager, Graduate Admissions
College of Fine Arts