(L to R) Laurie Baskin, TCG; Senator Jack Reed (D-RI); Curt Columbus, Artistic Director, Trinity Repertory Company
It was different this year in Washington. As in past years, TCG brought an impressive delegation comprised of board members, National Council for the American Theatre members and field leaders to Washington to advocate for the arts. But, our work was more complicated than in past years. The Hill is more polarized than ever, and because Congress and President Obama have not yet agreed on a budget for FY11, we were advocating for both FY11 and FY12 appropriations for the NEA, at the same time. The House had already passed a $43 million cut to the NEA for FY11, the President has proposed a $21 million cut for FY12 and we had our work cut out for us.
Many Members in the House want to cut federal spending and we did our best to articulate that an investment in the arts is an investment in jobs, in small businesses all across the country, in important arts education services, and that the return on the investment to communities and the nation is huge. It was also an important time to thank House Members who have continued to support the arts. Senate Appropriators offered some hope and promised to keep doing all they could to support arts funding.
We heard loud and clear that Representatives and Senators need to hear from their constituents on NEA funding. There has been an outcry on the elimination of funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and while they’ve heard from constituents on funding for the Endowment, that call has not been as loud.
I firmly believe that government – at all levels – should embrace its role in funding the arts. It is a public good and should be supported as such. The current threats to public funding for the arts are the most serious they have been since the mid-90’s. We can make a difference but everyone needs to participate.
Here’s how: I urge everyone to make it an ongoing priority for the next several months to regularly communicate the value and importance of the arts and NEA funding to your elected officials. And I urge each theatre to organize staff, boards and other stakeholders to communicate with your elected officials weekly until we have an FY12 budget. Every Representative and every Senator needs to hear the message that the arts are central to community life. They should be told what services would be cut if your NEA (or state arts council) grant is cut. Please click here to send a message to your elected officials. Your communications to Congress truly make a difference – and we need to keep the pressure on!