That's why, in the uncertain environment of an administration led by a businessman president, Utah's advocates are increasingly framing their arguments in the language of economic progress, underscoring educational tours and community-based programs.
Support the arts, they say, and you're supporting job creation in the creative economy, as well as the state's branding and tourism.
"There's a trickle-down effect as it relates to the arts, just as it relates to jobs," says Sarah West, who heads development for Ballet West. NEA funding allows local arts agencies "to invest in innovation, just as we invest in innovation throughout other industries."
"It's not about the dollar amount, it's about the breadth of the impact," says Jerry Rapier, artistic director of Plan-B Theatre Company, who has served on national NEA grant juries.
Federal grants, for example, have allowed Rapier's small Salt Lake City professional theater company to expand its free elementary-school tour to reach 15,000 kids in 40 schools across seven Utah counties. For the venerable Utah Shakespeare Festival, federal funds help support an annual tour, which in 14 weeks, plays to some 25,000 students in five states.
"Most people, even in the arts community, don't understand how far-reaching an NEA dollar really is," Rapier says. "The footprint is huge, even if the dollar amount isn't huge."
"Isn't huge" could be considered a lively understatement. The three programs' $741 million combined budget equals less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the country's annual federal spending. "An eyelash on the elephant that is the federal budget," as one Utah arts advocate terms it.
NEH's national budget is less than the amount of federal dollars supporting just military marching bands in the U.S. Defense Department, says Cynthia Buckingham, executive director of Utah Humanities.
Throughout Utah, federal arts funding is amplified through local partnerships, advocates say. "I would defy any business to squeeze a nickel more than any of the state's nonprofits do," says Buckingham. "We make a little go a long, long way."
In Utah last year, the NEA awarded $731,600 to the Utah Division of Arts and Museums. With matching state and private funding, the state awarded $2,168,671 in 261 grants to support arts groups, museums, educational and cultural activities throughout the state. Separately, the NEA awarded 20 direct grants to Utah agencies, totaling $577,500.
In 2015, NEH awarded $636,000 to Utah Humanities, which was matched with some $400,000 from private and public sources, and then that funding was enhanced with more than $682,000 in goods and services from Utah partners. (Official figures from 2016 are still being compiled.)
"So each federal dollar of seed money generated about $1.70 in documented cash and in-kind services," says Buckingham, adding that the nonprofit's programs reached 22 of Utah's 29 counties through 374 events that year, including the monthlong Utah Book Festival. Another high-profile program is its Smithsonian "Museum on Main Street," which has supported eight exhibitions and toured 41 towns, while attracting more than 250,000 Utah viewers, according to the agency.
Every arts organization will suffer if federal arts funding is cut or eliminated, says Paul Meecham, US | UO president and CEO. "We can argue about to what degree."
"This is a human issue," said Keri Putnam, executive director of the Sundance Institute, at the film festival's opening news conference last month. "It's about free expression, and it's about what role the arts play."
After all, the Utah economic driver that is the Sundance Film Festival was launched by Robert Redford in 1981 thanks to the seed money from a NEA grant.