Imagine our communities with libraries and museums closed most weekdays; when children in school do not get to express their creativity through dance, painting or theater; when our summer days are devoid of festivals, concerts and theater in the parks; when the military can no longer depend on arts therapists and therapy programs to help service people returning from war; when we turn on the television and don’t see PBS’s wonderful independent film series or curriculum-based programs for teachers and their students.
These scenarios are very likely to be the result of the Trump administration’s proposed elimination of our country’s most important cultural agencies — the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the Corporation of Public Broadcasting (CPB).
In fact, the impact would be even more dire: the NEA and NEH allocate large percentages of their budgets to all of the states and territories in the country, distributed through more than 24,000 grants just in the last year. The loss of both federal and state funding will have a devastating impact on the more than 100,000 arts and cultural organizations that depend on these funds to support their services to the public, and that use government funding to leverage matching funds from the private sector.
In NYC, where I work at the Museum at Eldridge Street, the impact of this loss of funding would play havoc with our economy. As the “cultural capital of the world” and one of our nation’s most vibrant cultural markets, the arts heavily drive tourism. According to NYC & Company, the marketing arm of the New York City government, in 2014 there were 27.6 million cultural visitors; domestic visitors spent an average $660 per trip and international visitors spent an average of $2,040 per trip. 49% participated in concerts, theater, dance, and 46% attended museums and art exhibitions. Overall, in 2015, visitors to NYC spent more than $41 billion visiting, providing $5.5 billion in city and state tax revenue. Should our cultural institutions cut back their hours open to the public, number of plays and dance performances being produced, and summer festivals and other cultural activities, tourism to NYC — already being threatened by the current administration’s proposed travel ban — will drop considerably, negatively impacting our economy and further straining the budgets of countless cultural institutions throughout the city through the loss of box office income, the result of cutting back on museum hours and the number of literary, dance, theater, and music events being produced.
And, no, private funding will not make up these losses. Foundation support for the arts was only 5% of total contributions in 2015, according to Giving USA, the annual report on philanthropy. Yet, the impact of the arts is rich beyond economics. The arts inspire creative thought and innovation; they share our rich history as a nation and a people; they tell our individual stories to bridge understanding of our differences and celebration of our similarities, dispelling stereotypes and bridging divides. The arts bring joy and passion into our lives, challenge us to think about national and global social issues, challenge the status quo, and, challenge us to think differently. The arts spur innovation and help us devise solutions to our everyday – and future – problems.
At the Museum at Eldridge Street, an organization that celebrates Jewish culture and history, immigrant history, and that opens the doors of our magnificent facility – the National Historic Landmark 1887 Eldridge Street Synagogue – to a broad public, we have depended on the NEA, the NEH, and the IMLS to serve more than 44,000 NYC residents, national visitors, and international tourists each year. The NEA supports our Egg Rolls and Egg Creams and Empanadas Festival, which celebrates the Jewish, Chinese, and Puerto Rican cultures of our iconic Lower East Side/Chinatown neighborhood, attracting more than 14,000 each summer. The NEH and IMLS funding enabled us to create a new Visitor’s Center, permanent exhibitions that share the history of Jewish immigration and Jewish impact on the growth of NYC, and educational programs for more than 8,000 schoolchildren annually.
Jewish cultural organizations throughout the country would be severely, negatively impacted by the elimination of the NEH, IMLS, and NEA. These agencies fund every pocket of America, including grants to the Atlanta Jewish Film Festival (GA), the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco (CA), Folksbiene Yiddish Theatre (NY), the Jewish Community Housing for the Elderly (MA), the Jewish Arts Foundation of Palm Beach (FL), Maine Jewish Film Festival (ME), the Oklahoma Israel Exchange (OK), RUACH (WI), Spertus Institute of Jewish Studies (IL), Jewish Community Center of Washington, DC., the Irene Kaufmann Center/JCC in Pittsburgh (PA). Truly, the list is endless. And even this abbreviated list doesn’t include the hundreds of projects at non-Jewish organizations that focus on Jewish themes, culture, history, and traditions that are being supported by these agencies.
To abandon the arts would diminish us all.
There is work we must do. Meet with your local, state and federal representatives in Congress. Write letters and emails asking that they retain the NEA, NEH, IMLS, and CPB at full funding. Contact your local arts organizations and ask what you can do to help. A united, loud voice in support of the arts can truly make a difference.
Eva Bruné is the Vice President for Institutional Advancement at the Museum at Eldridge Street.