As the very tenets of civil society are being re-written, and as health and human service needs rise, there is legitimate concern about how the arts can thrive.
Seems like national funding for the arts, humanities, and public broadcast media may once again on the chopping block in Washington. Enflamed debates highlight fundamental disagreement over federal government funding priorities, and we can expect vituperative arguments again this spring as Congress determines budget appropriations. At the appropriate time, it will be incumbent on each of us to claim our cultural agency and let Congress know how essential the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting are.
My state, Vermont, has much to lose. Over one million federal dollars are awarded annually to the Vermont Arts Council and Vermont Humanities Council. These funds are matched and granted out for programs throughout the state. VPR and Vermont PBS receive over $1.8 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and this support is matched many times over. Without federal underwriting, these organizations will be compromised and their programs curtailed.
The Flynn Center paid $2.5 million in salaries to 287 employees last year. Multiply this by people working at Shelburne Museum, Paramount Theater, Bennington and Brattleboro Museums, Circus Smirkus—and others—and it is easy to see that many jobs would be at risk with the loss of arts funding.
Sad, too, would be the diminishment of the transformative power of the arts. The joyfully dancing child, the sublime experience of beauty, and the shock of the new all immeasurably enrich our lives. Celebrating other cultures, connecting to our creative selves, and sharing fun with family and friends ennoble us. Art nourishes, disrupts, and inspires.
The role artists play in creating metaphor, defining space, commemorating losses and victories, and articulating the unconscious can never be underestimated. Art is necessary in our profane world. Artists create a safe place for unsafe ideas.
Why is federal subsidy important? At the Flynn, federal funding helps to support not only world-class performances and community activities with visiting artists, but also $27,000 subsidize scholarships for classes, 6,100 kids attend student matinees free, 87 schools host in-classroom workshops, and 55 social service agencies give 2,000 discounted tickets to clients. Every nonprofit across the state has similar stories, and I cannot imagine the broadcast media landscape without VPR and Vermont PBS.
What can we do? Lobby Congress for continued funding for these federal agencies to ensure all politicians understand the economic and cultural assets of the arts. Local support is always crucial. Go to open studios and buy art. Attend theater. Take hip-hop or tap lessons. Enjoy dance performances, live and on PBS. Sing with a chorus. Listen to music in person and on VPR. Write a poem. Buy a local author's book. Make art with your kids at home and at a museum's family day. Debate the merits of an independent film and then upload your own onto social media.
Have a bake sale to support an artist residency in a nearby school. Commission an artist to commemorate a birthday or anniversary. When you love something, tell your neighbors. Moreover, during the next on-air membership drive, please donate. Participation is the most important renewable resource for the arts, humanities, and public broadcast media.