With the closing of Cedar Lake a few years ago, it was a rude awakening for many of us about the crucial role endowments and funding play in sustaining companies. From the outside, everything about Cedar Lake seemed successful and stable: its fabulous dancers, its chic Chelsea facility and its diverse and renowned repertoire. Surprisingly, the existence of the elite company relied heavily on the whim of just one affluent donor. When rumors circulated that their final curtain call was imminent, I thought that there would be crowds of patrons with blank checks outside the theatre, ready to save the day. The reality is, an attempt to cover the vast amount of resources previously covered by a Walmart heiress, would have needed to be in the works years prior to keep the company afloat. So the large gap Cedar Lake left in the New York arts community remains unfilled, and the question remains, who really cares about the livelihood of the arts in America?
President Trump has made it clear that he does not. With his proposed budget plan to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Trump is sending a clear message. The endowments barely make a dent in the trillions spent annually by the government, and yet they are crucial lifelines for some of the most highly coveted artists and programs that provide this country with its rich cultural backbone. For Trump to so easily dismiss them indicates that the services they provide are of no value to him. The truth is, the American arts endowment supplies far less money to organizations than many other governments around the world. While it would be wonderful to have more government support, it proves that most of America doesn’t agree with Trump. Private donations, corporate sponsors and individual gifting provide the majority of funding for many major arts organizations, especially in the dance community. The NEA has however, awarded thousands of dollars for orchestras, jazz, symphonies and operas. It has provided the seed money for some amazing artistic endeavors, like the Sundance Film Festival and The Kronos Quartet. It’s contributions to public television and grant programs for schools have shaped the lives of children for generations. While the Endowment’s impact on the annual budget is small, its impact on the nation is great.
We know that the arts will not wither if Trump’s preposterous budget plan actually comes to fruition. The likes of Hamilton and Jazz at Lincoln Center will continue to thrive without the NEA, but they might not have been able to blossom without the money initially provided by the agency. The question is not whether we need the NEA to keep the arts alive, but whether we want to be a nation that turns its back on the very thing that is essential to its being? We don’t idolize great nations for their militaries and nuclear capabilities. We praise them for their rich culture, music, architecture, museums, dance and the beautiful minds that create them. It seems that whenever the need for financial re-distribution arises, the arts are the first thing on the chopping block. When will the government realize that the arts have always influenced economic and social growth ? When will the government see how art has enriched the lives of the youth, providing them an outlet, an opportunity and even a purpose in life? We remember great societies for their contributions to culture, and I hope our current administration gives us the chance to be remembered as such….my pointe exactly.