WASHINGTON — If the budget cuts suggested by President Donald Trump become reality, the impact on Utah's arts and humanities organizations will be major rather than minor, say those in leadership positions in the organizations.
According to NPR.com, Trump's proposed budget would entirely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, a proposal that has been met with disapproval from arts organizations throughout the country.
Americans for the Arts, a national organization intended to "serve, advance and lead the network of organizations and individuals who cultivate, promote, sustain and support the arts in America," said in a statement released Thursday that the NEA currently receives a $148 million annual appropriation that then "contributes to a $730 billion arts and culture industry in America," creating 4.8 million jobs and yielding a $26 billion trade surplus.
If the proposed budget were to be approved by Congress, 11 Utah grants totaling $305,000 would be denied, according to information provided Thursday during a National Press Club conference call.
The conference call included a question-and-answer session with Kate Shindle, president of the Actors' Equity Association, which represents 50,000 stage actors and stage managers across the United States.
"Put simply, the money provided to artists and institutions by the NEA is not about financing vanity projects," Shindle said in a statement released after the conference call. "It’s about providing seed money that, for a relatively low price tag, encourages large-scale investment in community development through the arts."
If the cuts affect programs already funded as well as the money passed through arts and humanities umbrella organizations, the loss to Utah arts organizations would extend beyond $305,000 to be in the tens of millions, according to Kasandra VerBrugghen with Spy Hop Productions, a local organization that mentors youths in the field of digital media arts.
"Actually, it's going to impact us a lot more than it looks like initially. It's much more," she said. "We would be seriously impacted, and we're (relatively) small."
VerBrugghen said if the budget were to be approved by Congress, it isn't clear yet how soon the cuts would be effective, whether grants already approved will stay in place or what would happen with multiple-year contracts.
"It's absolutely devastating," she said. "There are so many organizations that depend on these dollars. There's definitely going to be a battle."
According to information provided during the conference call, Spy Hop had asked for $15,000 to support its youth documentary arts program which — in partnership with public libraries, the Utah Film Commission and the Utah Division of Juvenile Justice — would explore stories and critical issues in the lives of youths and communities.
LeAnn Hord, executive director of the Utah Philharmonic Orchestra, said she was shocked to hear what is being proposed as well.
"I was blown away," she said. "I'm the mother of 10 children who play the viola, the cello and the piano. We lived below the poverty line and they developed and refined their characters through the arts.
"I do not approve of the cuts. This is hard-hitting."
Hord said she intends to do all she can to change the minds of those in Congress who will ultimately be asked to support the president's budget plan.
The Utah Philharmonic supports outreach activities to small and low-income communities. The orchestra applied for a $10,000 grant to help its members provide concert opportunities to young musicians and conductors, according to information provided during the National Press Club conference call.
Representatives from Sundance Institute emphasized in a statement that the organization vigorously supports the NEA and called upon the country’s leadership to do the same.
"NEA support played a crucial role in launching Sundance Institute in 1981 and has helped thousands of museums, arts programs and organizations," according to the statement. "The NEA plays a critical role in building a culture that values artists and understands the important economic benefits of investing in the arts. Defunding the endowment undermines our national artistic heritage and handicaps our future potential."
According to information provided during the conference call, Sundance Institute has two outstanding grant proposals: one for $70,000 for a playwright theater lab for developing children's theater and one for $100,000 to support the distribution of independent film.
Other local organizations listed as potentially being affected by the proposed cuts include Ballet West, Repertory Dance Theatre, Moab Music Festival, Utah Arts Council, Salt Lake Arts Council and the University of Utah, all of which have requested $10,000-$20,000 in grants to fund various programs.
Shindle said in her statement that eliminating the NEA would be a "job killer" for theater that extends beyond onstage talent.
"Live theater also provides jobs for people behind the scenes, like the stage managers and crew, and the people in front of the house, like ushers, box office and concession staff as well as those who have administrative jobs," she said. "Live theater means work for those down the block: the wait staff in the restaurant, the bartenders, the taxi drivers and the parking lot attendants, to name only a few.
"All of these are jobs that can’t be outsourced. These are jobs that are locally based and, more often than not, are small businesses.
"The members of Actors’ Equity urge our government leaders to continue funding the arts.”
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Sharon Haddock is a professional writer with more than 40 years' experience, 17 at the Deseret News. Her personal blog is at sharonhaddock.blogspot.com.
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