Last week, the Washington, D.C. newspaper The Hill published an article detailing the potential elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts under the Trump administration.
While this is just an initial report of budget cuts being considered in an effort to reduce federal spending, some Louisville artists are already bracing for a decision they say would drastically change how arts organizations operate in the city.
“It would be a huge blow to arts innovation,” says Theo Edmonds, the co-founder of IDEASxLab.
IDEASxLab is a Louisville-based organization that uses the arts to create equitable places and nurture healthy communities.
Essentially, they put artists in situations where you wouldn’t typically find them — corporations, neighborhoods, healthcare settings — as a way to encourage communication and creative solutions to some of the issues that face these places.
It’s a new way to think about art’s role in the community, and Edmonds says, that’s why grant funding is important.
“NEA funding is imperative for catalyzing new ideas throughout the country, and for us specifically, our very first funding came through the National Endowment for the Arts,” Edmonds says.
In 2014, IDEASxLab — in collaboration with the New York-based Residency Unlimited — received a $50,000 NEA “Our Town” grant, which facilitates creative placemaking. With it, IDEASxLab placed Polish artist and architect Jakub Szczęsny at GE’s FirstBuild microfactory as the corporation’s first artist-in-residence.
“And that model ultimately went on to become one of the top 10 business-arts partnerships in the nation and was honored by Americans for the Arts,” Edmonds says.
It’s a program that brought national attention to Louisville — and according to Edmonds, it would have had a much harder time getting off the ground without direct NEA assistance.
But many state arts institutions and programs also receive grants via the Kentucky Arts Council.
As the state partner of the NEA, the council receives matching funds from the organization to distribute within Kentucky.
In 2016, the Arts Council received nearly $710,000 from the NEA (in addition to almost $2.8 million from the Kentucky General Assembly allocations).
Last year, arts groups such as Actors Theatre of Louisville, the Louisville Orchestra and Stage One received funding from the council. It also distributes funds to individual artists.
The Kentucky Arts Council declined to comment on the possibility of the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, but the organization shared an email sent by the NEA to state arts agencies. It said, in part:
Like most federal agencies, the National Endowment for the Arts is operating under a Continuing Resolution for FY17, which goes through April 2017. We look forward to participating in the usual budget process for the FY18 budget with OMB (Office of Management and Budget) and The White House.
Christen Boone is the president and CEO of Fund for the Arts, an organization that receives the “lion’s share” of their funding from private and corporate support, as opposed to government grants.
Boone says, though, that one of the main goals of Fund for the Arts is advocating for arts dollars in the state in general, regardless of where the money originates — in short, they are not competitors with the Arts Council or, by extension, the NEA.
“We haven’t received National Endowment for the Arts funding in a number of years, but other organizations in town do,” Boone says. “NEA dollars are critical both for organizations like Kentucky Shakespeare Festival or Actors Theatre, but also to the support to the Kentucky Arts Council.”
Boone says while the future of the NEA is uncertain, it’s important to take the focus off of politics and instead focus on how arts funding benefits communities like Louisville.
“I think it is really important that we talk about the value of the arts and the return on the investment for our federal government,” Boone says. “One of the statistics is very meaningful to me is that every dollar invested by the NEA returns nine to 10 to the Treasury.”
She continues: ” It’s a smart investment, it’s a smart economic investment — and creativity is the base of innovation, and we as an innovative city and country need that creativity.”