In Their Own Words: Arts Organizations on the Importance of the National Endowment for the Arts

By: Feb. 18, 2017
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The overall assumption regarding an interest in the arts seems to be one of partisan politics. Its value is an often debated topic in a divided nation whose idealistic chasm grows wider by the day. For many, the fate of the arts remains a concern of those confined to what conservatives label a "coastal bubble." A fringe frivolity to be cast aside in favor of funding more "practical" ventures.

Here at BroadwayWorld, we pride ourselves on having created space to promote the work and mission of arts organizations throughout the country. And in keeping with that mission, we recognize that the the depth of the national arts community hugely contradicts this notion of coastal elitism. In states both blue and red, a thriving cultural sphere is a central component of fostering empathy, awareness, and education, as well as promoting social bonding and providing important contributions to local economies.

Recent reports have indicated a proposed plan to de-fund the National Endowment for the Arts. Having narrowly avoided eradication since the Reagan administration, this institution has routinely shown great resilience in the face of conservative legislators and voters who believe that the arts are imprudent to our national well-being and fiscal budget.

Many in our nation have only recently become aware of The National Endowment for the Arts, as the new presidential administration's proposal has reinvigorated an ongoing battle within the arts community to protect arts funding and education in schools and communities. Yet as many work to preserve this important institution, the true scope of its reach has yet to come into focus.

While much of the NEA's most visible work appears to emphasize larger state organizations. promoting the development of new works and world-class entertainment in larger cities, the NEA's funding reaches into every facet of our lives and extends into the most neglected corners of our nation.

From symphonies to dance companies to opera to music festivals and museums, the extent of the NEA's reach is vast and deep, providing countless recreational resources, educational programs, and employment opportunities across the nation.

Partnering with multiple organizations, the NEA has been a boon to locales devastated by dying industries and works to provide opportunities that help to revitalize these fractured economies. It is also the only source of funding for folk art and oral history programs that preserve the nuanced history of largely neglected, rural and multicultural communities in America.

Endeavoring to reach more isolated communities is at the heart of the NEA's mission. Extending all the benefits of a rich cultural life to some of the most under-served communities in the country, the works and organizations funded through the NEA have helped to restore economies in all 50 states, particularly in rural communities.

To better help our readers understand the numerous benefits of the NEA, we have reached out to arts administrators across the country, as well as the NEA itself, providing them with space to detail their own experiences receiving NEA funding and how the arts enrich communities and lives. In sharing their stories, these artists and administrators help to paint a portrait of a nation thriving as a result of continued support for the arts and the myriad ways in which the NEA serves to better the state of our union.

Statement from The National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities

"The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) 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 and The White House.

The grants and programs that the NEA administers are powerful examples of how the arts are a vital and valuable part of our everyday lives. In communities across the nation, NEA-supported projects ensure that the arts are accessible to all Americans, through arts education, healing arts, and arts-based community development - as well as through projects that feature dance, music, visual arts, literature, folk and traditional arts, and more.

To learn more about the work of the NEA and to keep up to date on our latest news, we encourage you to follow the NEA on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, as well as check out our Art Works Blog and podcast where we highlight the artists and arts organizations that contribute to our culture. In addition, the NEA's facts and figures page includes more detailed information on the impact of the NEA's grants and programs and this fact sheet will give you an overview of how the NEA conducts its business. To learn more about the NEA's recent grants in across the nation, visit our online grant search.

Lastly, visit NEA's United States of Arts where you can read more stories and view videos from people all across the country who share their perspectives about the importance of art in their lives and communities. We continue to add to this map, if you have a story you would like to share, feel free to do so at this online form."

American Conservatory Theater, San Francisco, CA- Carey Perloff, Artistic Director

"In all my years in the professional theater, getting an NEA grant has been the most important recognition of the importance of our work to the community. Not because of the dollar amount, which is usually relatively small, but because the NEA represents a national awareness that arts and culture contribute mightily to what it means to be human and to be part of a democracy. Every civilized country in the world has a policy of nurturing the arts because of the lasting mark they make on human history. We learn who we are through the reflection of ourselves on stage, in literature, in music, in the visual arts. Without the NEA, we risk becoming a nation of philistines."

Chicago Human Rhythm Project- Chicago, IL- Lane Alexander, Artistic Director

"Funding for the arts in America can be compared to an ecosystem. It is diverse and interconnected. While the funding we receive from the NEA is not in and of itself a "make it or break it" gift - it is a critical part of a system of support that is increasingly fragile and under stress. Abolishing the NEA would not only strike a blow to specific projects and programs in cities and rural areas throughout Illinois, but would further weaken the entire ecology. NEA funding can be a lever - it helps to encourage additional funding from other sources - by providing an important "Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval." It also supports the Illinois Arts Council Agency which is already under incredible stress because of the state budget impasse.

The amount that the USA spends on federal arts support per year is nearly equivalent to a single F-35 fighter jet. While American culture is admired around the world and often serves as a kind of "soft power" that diminishes the need to use military force, we invest a pittance in cultivating and supporting American culture. For the Chicago Human Rhythm Project, support from the National Endowment for the Arts helps to support performance, education and community building programs year-round including our annual festival of American Tap and Percussive Dance - RHYTHM WORLD - our arts education programs throughout Chicago Public Schools, our City-wide festival, STOMPING GROUNDS and more.

Artists are some of the most productive people on earth - they make more with less every day of the week - but there is a limit to this paradigm - even the creative spirit can be starved into submission. We should strongly support the arts in America through national funding at the NEA that make all of our lives richer and our communities more peaceful."

Las Vegas Philharmonic- Las Vegas, NV- Director of Education, Dr. Kevin Eberle

"As the only professional orchestra in Southern Nevada, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) provides critical support for our organization's education programming. Thanks to the funding we receive from the NEA, the Las Vegas Philharmonic is able to bring upwards of 20,000 schoolchildren to free concerts tailored specifically for them. NEA's support allows us to not only provide the concert experience, but also to provide curriculum and activities which link music with other content areas, such as mathematics, science, social studies, and language arts.

The NEA also helps us fund outreach activities for senior citizens with concerts in their communities. These types of outreach concerts for youths and seniors enrich the Las Vegas community by providing not only access to high quality music, but context for that music and the way music interacts with daily life. Without the support of the NEA, the Las Vegas Philharmonic might not be able to sustain these important programs for these special communities within Las Vegas."

Opera Santa Barbara - Santa Barbara, CA- Steven Sharpe, General Director

"Opera Santa Barbara has received National Endowment for the Arts funding several times in recent years, including for our 2012 production of Orpheus and Eurydice and our 2015 production of A Streetcar Named Desire. We were very pleased to be named a grant recipient for our upcoming production of The Cunning Little Vixen, which the company will present at the Granada Theatre in Santa Barbara on March 3 and 5. NEA support has enabled us to produce innovative productions, and agenCy Grants constitute a welcome validation of our artistic vision from a trusted institution. Our core mission includes contributing to the cultural enrichment of our community, and we view the NEA as an invaluable partner in this important work."

South Orange Performing Arts Center, South Orange, NJ- Mark Packer, Executive Director

"Receiving an NEA grant is the highest accolade that a nonprofit arts organization can receive. It is a validation that an organization's work is in the national pantheon of artistic endeavor. And this recognition in turn helps leverage additional private and public institutional support, as the imprimatur of the NEA's support means that an arts organization has met the most rigorous standards of artistic, financial and administrative excellence. The NEA is helping us present a world music performance series that will serve the diverse population of northern New Jersey. As a result, audiences can anticipate and enjoy a performance that connects them to their culture and artistic heritage. We are deeply grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts for recognizing SOPAC's achievements and aspirations."

Matrix Theatre Company- Detroit, MI- Megan Buckley-Ball, Artistic Director

"The support Matrix Theatre Company has received from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has been instrumental in allowing us to continue our mission of building community, improving lives, and fostering social justice through transformational theatre. Each year we are able to engage 700 youth in enriching theatre arts programs housed within the theatre itself, as well as at community centers, churches, libraries, and other partnering organizations. In a 2015 survey of 195 youth who participated in Matrix's theatre education programs, 100% believe that Matrix helped them learn more about working as part of a team, and 100% feel more confident that they have the skills necessary to peacefully resolve conflict, as a result of Matrix programming. The NEA's support has allowed us to provide these arts programs and opportunities for youth, many of whom face barriers to accessing creative arts programs. Without the funding from the NEA, it would be much more difficult for us to engage these populations in Detroit. When you consider that the cost is less than $30 per child, and we get such positive results, it's clear that the return on NEA's investment is worth it."

Lookingglass Theatre Company, Chicago, IL- Heidi Stillman, Artistic Director

"Lookingglass Theatre Company, recipient of the 2011 Tony Award for Outstanding Regional Theater, is a national leader in the creation and presentation of new, cutting-edge theatrical works and in sharing its ensemble-based theatrical techniques with students and teachers. Across the company's 29 year history, through changing patterns of arts consumption and charitable giving, support from the NEA has enabled Lookingglass to fulfill its mission to create and present stirring new theatrical work. To date, Lookingglass has created 65 world-premiere productions, reaches more than 40,000 audience members each year, and shares its new theatrical work development techniques with more than 4,000 students annually. Lookingglass is grateful for the NEA's longstanding, steadfast support of the arts and arts institutions nationwide."

Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma, Oklahoma City, OK- Michael Baron, Producing Artistic Director

"Lyric Theatre of Oklahoma has received $286,000 in direct grants from the NEA since 1998. The organization also receives funding from the state Arts Council, much of which comes indirectly from federal dollars. In 2007, the theatre used a $55,000 grant to stage "OKLAHOMA!," starring Broadway's Kelli O'Hara, an Oklahoma native, for the state's centennial celebration. And, in 2015, a $10,000 grant helped Lyric Stage the world premiere of "BERNICE BOBS HER HAIR.". This year, Lyric was named the recipient of a $10,000 NEA grant for its sensory-friendly performances of JAMES AND THE GIANT PEACH. "

Monterey Jazz Festival, Monterey, CA- Tim Jackson, Artistic Director

"The NEA has consistently help fund artistic programs at the Monterey Jazz Festival since 1999. As a non-profit, the NEA and the state organizations that help support the Monterey Jazz Festival bring valuable and revered cultural assets to Monterey County and to our audiences. The funds we receive from the NEA are part of our financial portfolio that not only help us keep going, but also help to support and build our communities to foster understanding, diversity, and creativity by bringing important artists that have an important impact on our education programs. In 2017, our Artist-In-Residence will be John Clayton, Jeff Hamilton, and Gerald Clayton, and they will come to Monterey to work directly with young musicians, which has an educational impact on them for the rest of their lives. Other recent Artists-In-Residence have included Terri Lyne Carrington, Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, Dianne Reeves, Joshua Redman, and many others. There is just no substitute for direct experiential learning from jazz masters.

The NEA has also help fund the creation of our commission pieces over the years as well, the Monterey Jazz Festival has a long historical precedent of debuting new works. John Clayton will be writing our 2017 commission piece for the Clayton-Hamilton Jazz Orchestra."

People's Light- Malvern, PA- AbiGail Adams, Artistic Director & CEO

"People's Light in Malvern, PA has most recently received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts to support community-connected new play development and production. The NEA-funded New Play Frontiers program invites nationally noted playwrights to the People's Light 5-county Pennsylvania environs to learn about specific communities and be inspired by the people, institutions and history of the region. From this program emerged Project Dawn by Karen Hartman, inspired by the women who run and are served by a revolutionary problem-solving court in Philadelphia for repeat prostitution offenders. An NEA grant supports the world premiere of this remarkable play in June 2017.

From works by Kenneth Lin to Karen Hartman to William Shakespeare, the NEA has supported vibrant productions of excellence at People's Light over the last 40 years - work that reflects the broad diversity of our American culture and heritage. As audiences gather at our campus for these plays, they support the well-being of the businesses and greater economy surrounding our Theatre. And they come together for rare, shared live experiences that enlighten, delight, and provoke deep thinking and discussion."

The Court Theatre- Chicago, IL- Charles Newell, Marilyn F. Vitale Artistic Director

"The NEA has helped Court Theatre produce thought-provoking and artistically ambitious classic work since the early 1990s. In the past several years, the NEA has supported Court's commissioning program, bringing new work to the theatrical canon, and Court's work in the community. In 2016, the NEA helped fund Court's production of Terry Teachout's Satchmo at the Waldorf and a Louis Armstrong Festival, which brought together partner organizations in a community-wide celebration of Armstrong's music, life, and legacy. This winter, the NEA again helped Court engage with the community through a production of Pearl Cleage's Blues for an Alabama Sky at the center of a celebration of the Harlem Renaissance.

Over the past few decades, the NEA has helped enable so much of Court's most important work, and it has been an essential partner to Court. The support of the NEA has consistently inspired Court and its patrons to embrace a more ambitious artistic agenda."

5th Avenue Theatre- Seattle, WA- David Armstrong, Executive Producer and Artistic Director

"Located in Seattle, The 5th Avenue Theatre is one of the nation's leading musical theater companies with a deep commitment to creating Broadway-caliber productions and developing the nation's new musical theatre. Since 2011, The 5th has premiered 17 new musicals, nine of which have gone on to Broadway including Best Musical Tony Award-winners Hairspray and Memphis. Creating live theater that serves our community is expensive, and like most theaters in the country, cannot be funded through ticket sales alone. We are proud to say that the NEA has been with us, supporting us along the way. Their financial support has been invaluable, allowing us engage and entertain an audience of over 300,000 each year. Over 11 years, the NEA has provided us with 11 unique grants totaling $435,000 that support our projects. Some of these include our 2011 commission, Rosie the Riveter, that travelled to elementary and middle schools across Washington; our 2016 "revisal" of Paint Your Wagon that featured a brand new book; and our 2017 reimagining of The Secret Garden, currently poised for a Broadway revival.

Beyond the financial support-critical to any non-profit theater-one of the largest benefits of being awarded an NEA grant is the huge seal of approval it provides, which allows us to garner support from other sources. Because of the NEA's acclaimed and highly competitive peer based review process, state and city government, foundation, and individual funders can be assured that The 5th's productions and programs are of the highest artistic quality, providing the largest community impact.

The 5th Avenue Theatre shares NEA's commitment to the transformative value that our work has in our community. The Arts are intrinsically valuable, and make us all better human beings. They hold a mirror up to nature, allowing us to reflect on history and culture-our own and others. The Arts instill empathy, offering insight when discourse and rhetoric fail. As Winston Churchill counseled in 1938, "The arts are essen­tial to any com­plete national life. The State owes it to itself to sus­tain and encour­age them..Ill fares the race which fails to salute the arts with the rev­er­ence and delight which are their due." Now, more than ever, the NEA, and the Arts, are worth fighting for."

Cleveland Play House, Cleveland, OH- Laura Kepley, Artistic Director

"Cleveland Play House is a proud recipient of support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Funds have enabled the creation of remarkable new works from a variety of sources, from local writers to Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Quiara Alegria Hudes. They have helped to establish workforce development programs that have catapulted young professionals into successful careers in the arts. They have mentored educators by pairing them with skilled artists and high quality arts-integrated curriculum in their classroom. They have introduced countless youth living in high poverty to theatre and exposed them to new worlds filled with people, places and ideas. In short, without support from the National Endowment, our community would not be as culturally enriched, economically vital, educationally sound or as filled with the hopes and dreams of children yearning for a more beautiful world beyond their insular communities." - Pamela DiPasquale, Cleveland Play House Director of Education

Theatreworks Silicon Valley- Palo Alto, CA, Barbara Shapiro, Chair of the Board of Directors

"The NEA funding has allowed TheatreWorks Silicon Valley to workshop and create dozens of new plays and musicals, ranging from Memphis, which won the Tony Award for best musical in 2010, to Confederates, the riveting political drama which launched our season last year. TheatreWorks New Works Initiative has become richer and more robust with the help of the NEA. Our Writers' Retreat brings together top writers and composers, musicians and actors to create and try out new works at our headquarters, free from the demands of their daily lives. Our New Works Festival helps these and other talented artists further develop their work as they present their untried material to large, enthusiastic audiences who enjoy getting an inside glimpse on how art makes it from the page to stage."

Victory Gardens- Chicago, IL- Chay Yew, Artistic Director

"The National Endowment for the Arts has our constant and passionate ally in building bridges between the work we create on stage and the many Chicago communities we serve. Thanks to their support, Victory Gardens has been able to produce plays that reflect, represent and unify our culturally diverse city. From plays that address gun violence to parental surrogacy, from a call center in India to suburban Andersonville, we are able to provide a public platform for our audiences to dialogue current issues and further define their citizenship. It is through the NEA that our American artists are able to give more visibility to Chicago's invisible populations. It is through NEA leadership that our storytellers are charged with amplifying the often silent voices that make up this country's vast history. Since its inception, this essential agency has birthed new American stories - sending them from towns to cities, and to the rest of the world. The National Endowment for the Arts is the beating heart of the United States."