By Brandon Gryde
By now, most in the non-profit arts community have received an update from one source or another that funding for the National Endowment for the Arts was once again cut. In fiscal year 2011, the NEA received a $12 million cut; and just this past month, in December, it received an additional $9 million cut for FY12, leaving it with a budget of $145.979 million.
This directly impacts the dance field as these cuts, and expected future cuts, were reflected in the NEA’s Art Works round 1 grants, as the number and amount of grants were significantly decreased. The NEA also eliminated consortium grants for 2013.
Funding for the NEA has been a flagship issue for arts organizations for years. Arts advocates must be spending their waking hours working to restore funding to the NEA so that we can continue to support the work of the non-profit arts community by funding the creation, presentation, and education of quality arts programs. This is serious, right?
Would it surprise you to learn that the answer to that is actually, “Yes, but ….”?
Yes, but … as director of government affairs, I spent an extensive amount of time on Capitol Hill working on tax issues in 2011. Last year, the non-profit community as a whole faced numerous proposals to change the charitable deduction. Legislators explored capping the deduction at a lower rate for high-income earners, replacing it with a tax credit, and a few policymakers started the conversation around the eligibility for tax-exempt status, a thread that I’m concerned will continue through 2012.
I visited Congressional offices many times on this issue, with both arts and non-arts colleagues. It was so important for Dance/USA to participate in these discussions as performing arts organizations rely far more on private contributions than on public support. This may not seem like direct arts work, but I was so pleased to run into a senior, Republican finance committee staffer at a meeting who remembered me as the “arts guy.” He expressed pride in the fact that the panelists he invited to a hearing on the charitable deduction spoke so eloquently about the importance of the arts. I consider that sense of pride a win for our community.
Yes, but … we’re also working on increasing and streamlining opportunities for international exchange. For years, arts advocates worked with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to shorten visa processing times for foreign artists. By many accounts, U.S. arts organizations have had fewer issues with getting their visa petitions approved this past year.
We’ve been in regular communication with the State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs (ECA). Not only have we asked Congress to increase the support for international exchange, but we’ve also been advocating for increased opportunities for U.S. artists to go abroad and share the best of what American arts have to offer. In response to our request for increased communications, ECA has created an online group – Cultural Crossroads – to help link U.S. artists with State Department employees abroad, in an effort to increase opportunities for cultural diplomacy.
Yes, but … did you know that we represent non-profit arts organizations on issues that arise at the Federal Communications Commission? The recent FY12 appropriations bill included language around broadcast spectrum auctions. What does that have to do with our community? Just two years ago, unlicensed wireless microphone users (that’s most of us in the performing arts) were forced to move from one area of the spectrum to another. For some performing arts groups, this move was unnoticeable; however this change carried a considerable cost to others who use many microphones and had to purchase new equipment. It’s important for Congress to understand that this has the potential to negatively impact non-profit performing arts communities.
Additionally, new Internet laws like Net Neutrality (that aim to prevent Internet service providers from blocking content from potential competitors) to the new Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) and its counterpart Protect IP Act (PIPA), which would allow copyright holders (read: big media companies) to take down websites without due process, could have an impact on emerging online outlets for artists. While intentions are good, the implementation of this bill could negatively impact free speech online. We’re working to inform our legislators about the potential ramifications this issue has on creative communities.
Yes, but … we’ve been working on increasing visibility of how arts organizations impact communities. No, I’m not talking about economic impact studies, but the way in which arts organizations are making communities healthy and vibrant and engaging youth and adults. The arts, particularly arts forms traditionally associated with Western traditions, received a significant amount of negative attention this year. The National Council on Responsive Philanthropy published a report that said the majority of foundation funding was going toward white audiences.
In this Occupy era, some non-profit arts organizations are viewed as part of the “institution.” And yet every day our members offer programs to improve communities – working with schools, senior centers, libraries, and other community organizations to increase accessibility to the arts, support educational initiatives, and address critical, unmet community needs. The public value of the arts is an increasingly important story to tell and I’m communicating with the Corporation for National and Community Service to learn how we can better connect our members with national service opportunities and resources.
So why the rundown? Like many of you, I’ve signed up for e-alerts from various organizations. All members of Dance/USA are automatically members of the Performing Arts Alliance and receive regular action alerts throughout the year asking you to contact your congressional leaders on relevant issues. I understand that advocacy fatigue is very real and that results are not always clear or immediate. However much you may feel as if you’re responding in a vacuum, know that your letters are being counted and read. Know also that Dance/USA is ensuring that professional dance is represented on a wide range of policy issues in Washington, D.C.
Thank you for your continued advocacy. For more information on Dance/USA’s advocacy work, visit www.danceusa.org/advocacy.
Brandon Gryde is director of government affairs for both Dance/USA and OPERA America. Prior to that he served two years as director of communications for Youth Service America, an international youth engagement organization, where he worked to increase awareness about the positive impact children and youth make in their communities through service and service-learning. Prior to moving to Washington, D.C., Brandon spent more than seven years at Jump Street, an innovative community arts organization in Harrisburg, Pa. He managed a state re-granting initiative in partnership with the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts and launched AND Magazine, a quarterly arts and healthy lifestyles publication written by teens, for teens. Brandon has a B.A. in Ethnomusicology and American Literature and Culture from UCLA and an M.A. in American Studies from Penn State.
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