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The National Endowment for the Arts remains a vital and stable source of support for the cultural ecosystem here in Massachusetts despite the partisan battles in Washington, D.C.
That fact was borne out recently when the Endowment’s then-Acting Chairman, Mary Ann Carter, came to Massachusetts for the first time to meet with local arts leaders for an informative roundtable discussion at New England Foundation for the Arts. On August 1 the Senate confirmed Carter as the Endowment’s 12th Chairman.
Though the Trump Administration has repeatedly proposed eliminating the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, both agencies enjoy strong bipartisan support in Congress. And both expect modest budget increases in next year’s federal budget.
That is good news for the Commonwealth. Over the past five years the NEA alone has awarded more than $17.6 million in grants to Massachusetts arts organizations. All those grants must be matched, which means an annual financial stimulus of at least $7 million that help those organizations grow, innovate, and reach new audiences.
The Endowment’s research also helps the arts community better understand its place in broader conversations about our changing nation and its economy. Its work with the Bureau of Labor Analysis demonstrated that arts and culture contributes more than four percent to Massachusetts’ gross domestic product. That data affirm that a healthy arts sector contributes significantly to the growth of our state’s knowledge-based economy.
More broadly, the NEA is an essential partner to the Mass Cultural Council in assuring the arts reach all of our people, regardless of geography, race, or socioeconomic status. Its annual state partnership grant to Mass Cultural Council supplements our annual appropriation from the Commonwealth, allowing us to extend grants to nonprofits, local cultural councils, creative youth development, and arts education in schools. Its Folk and Traditional Arts grants allow our nationally-renowned state folklorist, Dr. Maggie Holtzberg, to deepen her work in communities to preserve and advance our rich and diverse cultural heritage. Recently that collaboration resulted in Medford’s Balla Kouyaté being honored with a prestigious National Heritage Fellowship. And the NEA’s Poetry Out Loud grant enables the Huntington Theatre Co. to work with dozens of schools across the state on the inspiring and beloved poetry recitation competition that grows in popularity every year.
It’s easy, and understandable, to be frustrated with our national politics. And we know the NEA, NEH, and other cultural agencies could accomplish so much more with more robust funding. Still, we can be grateful that the National Endowment for the Arts has survived the political storms so it is still there to support and advance our arts community. And we can thank our delegation in the US House and Senate, who are among Congress’ most consistent supporters of federal cultural funding.