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Value of the Arts & Importance of Advocacy

donna collinsIt’s that time of year when we begin to plan for National Arts Advocacy Day on March 20-21 in Washington, DC. It’s always important to tell our stories of the economic, educational, and cultural value of the arts, but with a new president and Congress in place, it’s especially critical that we communicate the value of federal funding for arts and culture through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) – and its direct impact on Ohio’s arts and cultural communities.

 Here at the Ohio Arts Council we’ve had inquiries regarding reports that the new presidential administration is considering eliminating the NEA. While these reports give us pause, much of what we are reading remains speculation. The latest story in this cycle comes from the New York Times, which reports that the federal Office of Management and Budget included the NEA on a list of federal agencies that could be eliminated. This news is certainly disconcerting, but it remains only one of several possible scenarios under consideration, and it does not appear the preseident has made any final determinations.

 The Ohio Arts Council is a member of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA), which serves as the membership organization that unites, represents, and serves the nation’s state and jurisdictional arts agencies. We are in regular communication with NASAA. During a recent conference call, I was updated by NASAA on meetings they’ve had with key federal leaders to learn about the administration’s agenda for the arts and the disposition of members of Congress. The report gave me hope that we continue to enjoy support from both sides of the aisle for the arts, as we have for many years. It would be unfortunate – and counterproductive – if the arts community declared itself in opposition to a new presidential administration and Congress regarding a budget proposal that – for now – only amounts to Washington chatter. If that chatter turns into action, however, we should all be ready to advocate for the arts,

For the moment, no formal proposal has been made for the future of the NEA, and, the NEA expects to go through the normal budget process for federal fiscal year 2018, which starts in October. We do know that two senior presidential aides have been placed at the NEA to understand its work, and that both have expressed support for the NEA’s mission.

 Worries over the NEA are familiar to many of us. In the past, proposals have been made to eliminate the cultural agencies and these efforts have generated intense advocacy. While the NEA is no stranger to funding cuts, the current trend is upwards not down, and the cultural agencies are still with us and stronger in many ways. 

Just as important as the president's forthcoming budget proposal, let’s keep in mind that during the most recent NEA budget consideration by Congress, both the House and Senate recommended modest appropriation increases for the NEA – the very opposite of elimination. The federal budgeting process is long and winding, but ultimately the buck stops with Congress, regardless of what the president proposes, which provides a great opportunity for your advocacy in March.

It’s always appropriate to contact your representatives at the local, state, and federal levels to express your support for public funding for the arts and what this support has made possible in your community. Building relationships early with your elected officials is one of the best practices you can adopt as an advocate. However, we advise everyone to withhold judgment until, or if, there is a concrete proposal that harms the arts. Whatever path the future takes, be ready to engage we need all of our (many!) friends in leadership positions in government on both sides of the aisle and at all levels.

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