Government Shutdown Imperils the Arts!

This past Friday (January 11, 2019), the Performing Arts Alliance sent out an urgent letter via email to its membership informing them of the dire impact the government shutdown is having on the national arts community. The Alliance is the national policy advocate, leadership forum, and learning network for America’s nonprofit performing arts organizations, artists, and its allies.

The email was shared with me and I’m passing along excerpts to you. I urge you to add your voice to the rising chorus protesting the political stalemate that is creating a damaging ripple effect across our nation. The shutdown is now the longest in U.S. history and government employees, contractors, social services, feeder businesses, mortgages, loans, immigration, air travel, and safety-net benefits are being imperiled or disrupted. Now comes the urgent reminder that support for the vital threads that bind us culturally and socially—the arts—are once again in danger of being cut.

The following information is from the letter sent by the Performing Arts Alliance:

National Endowment for the Arts
Due to the expiration of the stopgap funding and subsequent partial shutdown of the government, operations at the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) are suspended until FY2019 funding for the Department of the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies passes. The public announcement of the NEA’s first of two major waves of grantmaking for FY19 will likely be delayed, and the agency’s website and social media accounts are not posting content or responding to messages during this federal appropriations lapse.

The nomination of Mary Anne Carter to serve as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts will likely be affected by the shutdown as well. More than 130 pending presidential nominations from the previous Congress, including Carter’s, must be resubmitted.

The National Endowment for the Arts was established in 1965—that’s 53 years ago. The mission it was given by Congress as an independent federal agency was to use its funding and support to ensure that ALL Americans have the opportunity to “participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities…(The) NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America.” While its budget has been under assault for more than three decades, the NEA has still managed to fund (or inspired other funders to fill the gaps) a variety of arts organizations in rural communities and urban centers, reaffirming over and over again that the arts matter. And the beneficiaries have been all of us.

The late Albert Einstein—the renowned physicist who became a pacifist and nuclear abolition advocate—once noted: “The world is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.” This moment in our nation’s history is not the time for any of us to “look on and do nothing.” Our current challenge demands that we each find a way to raise our voices, as well as help others that are hurting, in whatever way we can. Or we can take inspiration from the examples previously reported in my Arts and Culture Connections posts about Colin Kaepernik, Artists responding to Charlottesville, or arts on the frontlines of the resistance to the current administration’s efforts to attack, marginalize, dehumanize, divide and now shut out people.

The Performing Arts Alliance reminds us on its website that “elected public officials owe their jobs to voting citizens…and whether policymakers are for or against an important issue, citizens have the ability to speak their mind and show where they stand.” They offer an Arts Advocacy Toolkit to help you get started. They also encourage arts organizations to lobby, which they note is “just another term for freedom of speech.”

Whether you take action as an individual or work with other arts organizations or community partners, I urge you to reach out to your federal representatives and let them know how you feel about the shutdown and the future of the NEA. This link on the Performing Arts Alliance website will lead you to an invaluable resource to “Find Your Legislators” by entering your zip code and street address. You will be provided with contact information for both your Congressional representative(s) and U.S. Senator(s).

I hope you will take to heart these words of wisdom shared by the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.—civil-rights leader and peace activist: “Our lives end the day we become silent about things that matter.” Let’s use our voices and collective efforts to show the world that the arts will always matter.