Advocates: Relatively small fund cuts have big impact on Arizona arts

Children get hands-on with instruments at the Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix, which gets funding from both the National Endowment for the Arts and the Arizona Commission on the Arts, officials said. (Photo courtesy Musical Instrument Museum.)

The nonprofit Many Mouths one Stomach produces Tucson’s annual All Souls Procession and offers workshops and other events throughout the year. It got NEA and Arizona Commission on the Arts grants in 2016. (Photo by Emily Jones/Many Mouths One Stomach.)

WASHINGTON – The Trump administration’s call to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities in next year’s budget would mean the loss of just over $1.5 million in federal funds for Arizona.

While that number may appear small in a federal budget that’s in the trillions, arts advocates called it a short-sighted cut of a part of the budget where taxpayers “get a lot of bang for their buck with the small amount of funding they get from the NEA.”

Federal funds support hundreds of grants each year that allow for programs that are “income-generating as well as providing great programming for students, children, seniors and just the community at large,” said Beatrice Moore, director of Grand Avenue Arts and Preservation.

Supporters of the cuts don’t disagree that arts and culture are important, but they say it’s not the government’s place to be in the culture business. The government has better ways to spend the $295.9 million that went to those two agencies last year, they argue.

“We oppose corporate welfare, and we also oppose cultural welfare,” said Tom Jenney, state director for the Arizona chapter of Americans for Prosperity. “Government should not choose winners and losers in the business world, and it should not choose winners and losers in the arts and humanities.”

The administration provided few details in the outline of President Donald Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget released Thursday, except to identify the arts and humanities agencies as two of 19 independent agencies – including everything from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting to the U.S. Institute of Peace – that were being targeted for elimination.

In a message with the budget blueprint, the administration said its goal is to “move the nation toward fiscal responsibility.”

But support for the arts and culture is more than just a matter of “dollars and cents,” one advocate said.

“Arts and humanities are not a luxury,” said Brenda Thomson, executive director of Arizona Humanities, the state’s affiliate organization for the NEH.

She said arts and culture identify who we are as a nation, at a cost of less than a dollar per person. Cutting those funds could result in the loss of programs and events that people want, Thomson said.

“If 350 people show up to a talk, it shows you they care about the kind of things we offer,” she said.

Barbara Hatch is the founder of the Veteran Heritage Project, which helps capture the history of vets as well as providing them with a positive outlet to speak of their time in the military. Hers was one of the organizations that won a grant from Thomson’s group.

Hatch said she will “vociferously oppose” any proposal that could threaten the humanities in the nation. She pleaded with government leaders to have sympathy, and said that doing away with that type of assistance would be a “disservice.”

“I’m begging our leaders, whoever are the ones that get the final say on this,” Hatch said. “Don’t rob us of our soul, please do not rob us of our soul.”

For her part, Moore called the cuts a “vindictive” act by a president who has been criticized by many artists. She and Hatch said they do not think administration officials understand the importance of arts and culture funding.

Despite the administration’s outlook, Thomson said advocates are prepared to fight to stop the cuts, and she remains optimistic that her organization will remain intact with the help of others.

“We have weathered storms before and are friends are far and wide,” Thomson said.