Impact of Budget Cuts on the Arts | The Washington Center

Impact of Budget Cuts on the Arts

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know that Donald Trump’s budget plan was released last week. In this plan, there are many shocking budget cuts that will mean a great deal to the nonprofit sector, should they pass in Congress.


One of these cuts is funding toward the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), an organization that receives approximately $148 million of the $4 trillion federal budget. In other words, .0037% of the annual federal budget. Interestingly enough, I am reminded of the issue essay I wrote just 6 months ago as a part of my application to The Washington Center, titled “The Importance of Government Funding for Regional Theatre.”


Five months ago, I began my essay with, “Even though arts organizations have reaped the benefits of local, state, and federal support for over thirty years, there is still a great deal of controversy surrounding the responsibility of the government to support the arts, especially financially.” Now this opening sentence is hauntingly inescapable. As my issue essay focused largely on the need exercised by regional nonprofit theaters, I will continue that theme in this post, keeping in mind that regional theatre makes up a large portion of the D.C. Metro Area theatre scene.


In an NPR article written by Brian Naylor, NEA Chairman Jane Chu said was quoted as saying, "We are disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every Congressional District in the nation." I know this to be true.


Last summer, I interned with a small regional theater in Northern Maine, Penobscot Theatre Company, that received a grant that allowed them to partner with the Penobscot Nation to celebrate Native American culture. As part of the educational programs Penobscot Theatre offers year round, local artists teamed up to create a multimedia exploration of Native American stories. These stories were then performed at several venues by the company’s youth theatre initiative, the Dramatic Academy.


Penobscot Theatre Company is a non-profit organization; without the governmental support they received to embark on this project, it simply would not have happened and an entire community would have missed an incredible opportunity to explore the culture that surrounds them, while simultaneously another community's stories would have remained untold.


Photo Credit: Magnus Stark; Penobscot Theatre Company's performance of Transformer Tales: Stories of the Dawnland

Courtesy of: Magnus Stark, Penobscot Theatre Company


In the same NPR article, Naylor writes, “According to Americans for the Arts, NEA's annual appropriation supports a $730 billion arts and culture industry, 4.8 million jobs and a $26 billion trade surplus for the nation.”


The ostensible need for government support is attributed to the role that non-profit regional theaters offer and the stories they are responsible for telling. Educational and outreach programs need to be accessible to communities everywhere in order to continue the missions of these organizations that serve to contribute to thriving cultural life. Those who question the government’s role in funding the arts should consider the role the arts have played in their own lives, before taking away the same opportunities they had from the generations who have yet to benefit.

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