NEA funding cuts will affect local arts organizations
Utah will be hit hardest
The nation’s arts and cultural organizations let out a collective gasp last week when President Donald Trump unveiled his first federal budget plan that included proposals to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
If the cuts are approved, Utah would be one of the places hit the hardest, said Gay Cookson, director of the Utah Division of Arts & Museums.
“Nearly 73,000 people hold creative occupations in Utah, and creative occupations are growing at 3.7 percent per year,” Cookson told The Park Record. “Utah [also] has 36 cities and counties with option taxes that support the arts, like the Summit County RAP Tax.”
The National Endowment for the Arts reported this year that Utah is No. 1 per capita in the nation for attendance at live music, theater and dance performances. Utah is also No. 2 in the nation for attendance at art exhibitions, Cookson said.
Many of these live performances and exhibits are funded in part by National Endowment for the Arts money, which makes it way to Utah in two ways.
The first is through an NEA/Utah Division of Arts & Museums partnership.
“The NEA budget, $148 million this year, participates in a one-of-a-kind partnership with each state, and 40 percent of that budget is distributed directly to states, in our case, through us,” Cookson said. “Arts organizations can write grant requests to our office and we make decisions on distribution at the local level.”
Last year, the Utah Division of Arts & Museums received more than $731,000 for grants to arts organizations, arts education programs, underserved communities and folk arts.
“The grants were given to nearly 300 organizations in 25 of Utah’s 29 counties and serve more than 4 million people annually,” Cookson said.
The breakdown was as follows:
- $551,000 to organizations such as Ballet West and Utah Symphony
- $82,000 to arts projects in underserved communities, mostly located in rural areas
- $53,000 to grants that are particular to arts education
- $20,000 for folk arts
- $20,000 to the Poetry Out Loud program, a high-school poetry contest
- $5,000 for creative economy and entrepreneurship“All NEA money granted by the state requires matching funds from the state and organization, and the state has complete oversight of the grant process,” Cookson said.The second way is through direct distribution.
“An additional $550,000 to $750,000 in NEA funding also makes its way to Utah through direct grants to arts organizations,” Cookson said. “Arts organizations can also write grant requests directly to the Washington office and receive money that way.”
NEA funds make up 50 percent of Utah Department of Arts & Museum’s grant budget, and about 25 percent of the total budget.
“If the NEA was eliminated or reduced, immediate hits would be felt by arts organizations, education programs and museums — especially the rural organizations, the folk and traditional arts, our poetry program and arts in the schools,” Cookson said.
One of those organizations is the Park City Beethoven Festival, the longest-running classical-music festivals in the state.
“I’ve seen quotes like ‘We don’t want to ask a single mom to pay for this’ through their taxes, but we need to think about how children benefit through these programs,” said director Leslie Harlow. “It benefits not just them but also benefits lower income families that can’t otherwise afford to experience a performing arts concert.”
The funding helps keep ticket prices lower and allows organizations such as the Beethoven Festival to offer free programming such as the summer concerts in the park and the free concerts at assisted-living facilities.
The Park City Film Series, an art-house theater organization that holds screenings at the Park City Library’s Jim Santy Auditorium, uses NEA money to present its free monthly REEL Community Series.
Looking at the bigger picture, Film Series Executive Director Katharine Wang said NEA funding brings people to Utah.
“Some people come to and stay in Park City because of the diversity of arts offerings through the Sundance Film Festival, Park City Film Series, the Egyptian Theatre and the Park City Institute,” she said.
Park City Institute Executive Director Teri Orr said she would have to cut back on student outreach or performances if the cuts are approved.
“Like many ticketed arts organizations in the state, we are a three-legged stool,” Orr said. “One leg is ticket sales. One leg is sponsorships and underwriting and the other leg is a split between grants and donations. So grants are a big deal to us.”
One of the biggest arts organizations in the state that has ties to Park City is the Utah Symphony | Opera, which presents the Deer Valley Music Festival every summer.
The Symphony sees it as a stamp of approval of sorts, said CEO and President Paul Meecham.
“When potential donors hear about an organization receiving an NEA grant, they are more inclined to donate as well,” Meecham said.
While it is uncertain that the cuts will become a reality, Meecham said it’s important for arts and cultural organizations to be proactive.
“We are working closely with the congressional delegation to make the case of why it’s important to keep the NEA,” Meecham said.
The public can also help.
“They can call their representatives and senators and make the case that this matters to them as individuals and children,” Meecham said. “The arts are powerful. They create a vibrant society. And the case to be made is why federal money is important to this.”
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