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Having a real effect upon the legislation and public policies that are impacting traditional cultures in America will require our stepping up to the plate early and educating ourselves on how to fight politically--Peggy A. Bulger

Contact your Congressperson today: Ask them to support the NEA and NEH!
April 17, 2017

Cutting federal funding for the arts and humanities will hurt everyone. The impact won’t be short-term. There are many arguments for continuing support for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), two federal agencies slated to be eliminated in the President’s 2018 budget and crippled in his recommended 2017 budget. As someone involved in the arts for my entire life, I am alarmed by the short-sightedness of this action.

Government dollars carry extraordinary weight, even if actual amounts are relatively small. NEA and NEH each have been supported recently at the modest level of $148 million, only 0.004 percent (four thousandths of one percent) of the annual federal budget. Trump has proposed to cut this small amount by an additional $15 million for the 2017 fiscal year and totally eliminate the agencies in 2018! At less than 1 percent of the budget, eliminating NEA and NEH will do little to reduce our nation’s deficit. Rather, it will result in a loss of revenue to communities.

Even though $148 million is a small percentage of the national budget, the effects on our communities are wide ranging. The grants provided by the National Endowments to cultural agencies of all sizes allows them to invest in the cultural lives of their communities and to nurture creative activities for people of all ages. Organizations and individuals in New York receive support—directly from the Federal Endowments or indirectly through grant support from Humanities New York or the New York State Council on the Arts. With grants from the Endowments matched dollar for dollar, NEA and NEH grants invite further investment in communities by corporations and private citizens. As stated by Janet Brown of Grantmakers in the Arts: “Since the inception of these agencies [the NEA and NEH], private foundations have supported arts and culture knowing they were acting in tandem and as a ‘business investor’ with the federal government” (www.giarts.org/blog/janet/preserving-soul-america). As recognized by private foundations and other granting organizations, government support for the arts leverages other public and private investment. Economic development through the arts is also strengthened by direct public participation. Cultural activities engage residents and visitors alike;a dollar invested by NEA, for example, generates four additional dollars through private investment and tourism, as arts and culture audiences buy tickets, go out to dinner, browse retail establishments, and enjoy our communities’ downtowns.

In New York State, federal support of the arts and humanities has a direct effect on all of our communities. Although New York City is often viewed as the “Arts Capital of the World,” communities throughout the state benefit from federal support. A quick look at 2016 grants for arts projects throughout the state indicates that every county and congressional district of New York has benefitted from the NEA. As executive director of the New York Folklore Society, the statewide service organization for folk and traditional arts, I am most knowledgeable of grants that benefit the heritage of New Yorkers. Here are a few of the 2016 Folk Arts grants:
  • The Erie Canal Museum, Syracuse (Onondaga) received support for a tour of live traditional arts performances, staged on a refurbished barge travelling the Mohawk Barge/Erie Canal, traversing New York and providing performances and other programs.

  • Local Learning: The National Network for Folk Arts in Education supports traditional arts and culture activities in schools, working directly with educators and teaching artists and impacting communities and arts education throughout the state. In 2018, Local Learning will work with western New York schools, with themes of “sense of place” and the environment.

  • The Iroquois Museum, Howes Cave (Schoharie) will offer a series of public demonstrations and workshops focused upon arts of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee) Confederacy.

  • Long Island Traditions (Nassau/Suffolk) and the New York Folklore Society (Schenectady/ Montgomery/Schoharie/Greene) are collaborating to explore the effects of weather events impacted by climate change. Individual responses to Hurricane Irene and Superstorm Sandy are being collected through oral histories. Two resulting exhibitions and programs will be mounted concurrently and shown in partnership with the Long Island Museum and Schenectady County Historical Society’s Mabie Farm.

  • Staten Island Arts (Staten Island) is documenting the working waterfront, exploring the borough’s rich occupational history and lives of those who live along the waterfront.

  • Hamilton County and their county historian received support from NEH for public forums and programs on the occasion of Hamilton County’s Bicentennial.

  • Historic Hudson Valley (Ulster) received support for public programs on Washington Irving and the Art of Storytelling.
Direct support to artists is an important role of NEA, providing awards and fellowships for writing, lifetime achievement, jazz, and folk and traditional arts. National Heritage Fellowships recognize and honor masters of folk and traditional arts. In its 35-year history, the program has celebrated individuals who exemplify excellence in their chosen art form and have generously shared and nurtured traditional arts activities with others. The NEA website states that the fellowships honor “lifetime achievement, artistic excellence, and contributions to the nation’s traditional arts heritage” www.arts.gov/honors/heritage. There have been 413 honorees since the National Heritage Fellowship program began in 1982, recognizing excellence in artistry for music, dance, craft traditions, and folk arts advocacy and service. Honorees include Syracuse guitarist and songwriter Elizabeth Cotton (Onondaga); Klezmer clarinetist Andy Statman (Brooklyn); Ghanaian drummer Yacub Addy (Albany); Lindy hopper Frankie Manning (Queens); Puerto Rican lace maker Rosa Elena Egipciaco (New York); and gospel musician in the Sacred Steel tradition, Chuck Campbell (Monroe). The nation’s highest honor for folk and traditional artists, this award recognizes the diversity that is at the core of America’s strength. See the list of NYS-based winners of National Heritage Fellowships on our site.

As Janet Brown so elegantly stated:
Just as America values its national parks for all to enjoy, our history, culture, and art are no less valuable to Americans. They are the soul of our nation and the conscience of our people. The elimination of these federal agencies would send the message that Americans don’t care about their history, their culture, and their art. (www.giarts.org/blog/janet/preserving-soul-america)
I am convinced that Americans do care about the creative life of America. I urge you to contact your Congressperson today. Ask them to support the NEA and NEH. Their loss will be a loss for America’s cultural heritage and the elimination of a strong economic driver in our communities.

Ellen McHale, Executive Director
New York Folklore Society

NEW YORK FOLKLORE SOCIETY ♦ 129 Jay Street ♦ Schenectady, NY 12305 ♦ 518.346.7008 ♦ Fax 518.346.6617 ♦ nyfs@nyfolklore.org