Art matters economically, Utah leaders say, as proposed NEA and NEH cuts loom

First Published      Last Updated Apr 03 2017 10:11 am

Cutting budgets would eliminate jobs and community programs, arts advocates say.

Editor's note • Arts leaders nationwide are reacting Thursday to President Donald Trump's 2018 fiscal year budget proposal that would eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Here is a reposting of Tribune reporting from last month about the role of NEA and NEH funding in Utah.

As the threat of another battle over federal arts funding looms, Utah's advocates are gearing up to broadcast the deep roots of the local cultural economy.

From the Utah Symphony and Utah Opera to Ballet West, Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, Utah Shakespeare Festival and scores of nonprofits in between, local arts leaders are talking about the cultural sector's relevance.

Fears of funding cuts resurfaced in news stories last month reporting that President Donald Trump's administration was considering slashing the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as privatizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The arts funding cuts were pitched as part of efforts to slash the federal deficit by $10.5 trillion over 10 years, drawing upon long-simmering proposals from the conservative Heritage Foundation.

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."

» Next page... Single page



By the numbers

Utahns and the arts In a National Endowment of the Arts survey released last year, Utahns rank:

No. 1 » in the country in attendance at live music, theater and dance events.

No. 2 » in attendance at visual arts exhibits. No. 5 » in reading literature.

Utah’s creative economy

According to the Western States Arts Federation, a nonprofit arts advocacy and training group:

72,731 » Utahns work in creative jobs.

3.7 percent » That’s the rate of growth in Utah’s creative occupations, in comparison to 2.9 percent job growth in other economic sectors.

$704.2 billion » What the arts and culture sector contributes to the U.S. economically annually.