Lawrence Toppman

If Trump kills arts funding, what would get hurt here? Not what you think, says ASC president

On the day President Donald Trump announced he wanted to eliminate all federal funding for the arts and humanities, arts organizations around the state reminded people just how much they stand to lose.

The Arts & Science Council launched a grassroots effort to get citizens to fight for the National Endowment of the Arts before Congress votes on his budget, directing people to a Facebook #SaveTheNEA page and linking them to an article explaining five ways the NEA benefits Charlotte.

Like the ASC, Arts North Carolina linked people to the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, which included customizable messages to send to members of Congress.

The president’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 includes no money for the National Endowment of the Arts, National Endowment of the Humanities and the lesser-known Institute of Museum and Library Services. Every program those organizations run would be discontinued, saving the federal government just under .003 percent of a budget estimated at $3.76 trillion.

“We have been fighting this battle since the 1980s,” said ASC president Robert Bush. “This is the first time the president has said not ‘cut the NEA or IMLS’ but ‘eliminate it.’ That’s a hard thing to get your hands around.

“Who’ll be hurt are not the Metropolitan Opera or Chicago Symphony – or even the biggest things in Charlotte – but the rural communities and underserved communities within big cities, things like veterans getting free admission to museums across the country.”

That’s because what happened in the mid-1960s, when the NEA and NEH were created, was a sea change, says Bush.

The arts had been centralized in cities, but the NEA “spread the arts across the country and made sure every community had arts and culture specific to that place. That’s how you could have a Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Nevada (at the Western Folklife Center) or the Penland School of Crafts, teaching indigenous techniques in North Carolina.”

The death of the NEA would be felt slowly and subtly in Charlotte.

Charlotte Ballet would still have its “Innovative Works” concerts; without a $10,000 NEA grant, though, choreographer David Ingram could not have bought technology to create his daring “Flamouria.” Children’s Theatre of Charlotte might still have produced “Journey to Oz,” but not in the interactive/immersive way it was done (and with fewer workshops).

And if not for NEA funding, the public art piece for Romare Bearden Park would diminish in scale – and, according to the ASC, “we would not have been able to commission Richard Hunt, one of the most renowned African-American sculptors ... and a personal friend of Bearden.”

The death of the IMLS would have subtler but perhaps longer-reaching consequences. That agency has given $450,000 to Harvey B. Gantt Center for African-American Arts + Culture since 2009 to help open its Tryon Street facility, employ a registrar and conservator, strengthen public programming and work with Johnson C. Smith University to digitize its collection online.

“A lot of the museum grants are for digitizing collections, so they are there forever for somebody to see,” says Bush. “If we are a great nation – and I believe we are – we have to remember that it’ll be the arts that tell (future generations) who we were as a people.

“We look at Egyptian art and native American artifacts and Chinese art to understand what those cultures were like. If we don’t preserve these things, we’ll never see the full story of America.”

Toppman: 704-358-5232