Just days before National Arts Advocacy Day, news hit of President Trump’s plan to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts in 2018.
The announcement, though not entirely unexpected, sent a surge of energy into the day’s mission: connecting arts leaders with Congressional representatives to share stories of the importance of the arts and humanities, their impact and transformative power in communities, and the value of federal partnership.
Some 40 New Jersey arts leaders — the largest delegation ArtPride NJ has ever coordinated — joined the more than 700 people who gathered in Washington DC for the annual event sponsored by Americans for the Arts,
Veterans and first-timers alike together reviewed data on how the arts improve our lives and tips on how best to make the case for continued support for the arts and humanities. We learned about how NEA funding affects the arts in New Jersey — last year more than $1.9 million in grants that supported 40 projects in communities across the state — and from each other we learned how to make the best use of our time with fresh approaches to storytelling so leaders could better understand the importance of the arts to their constituents.
A highlight of the two-day event was the Nancy Hanks Lecture on Arts and Public Policy, this year presented by Darren Walker, Ford Foundation president.
Mr. Walker’s powerful remarks were compelling and portrayed how he became familiar with the arts as a child, perusing art magazines that his mother brought home from her job as a domestic in a wealthy household where attending cultural performances was a part of life, far removed from his own experience. He emphasized what we all felt deeply as arts advocates–that the arts are not a special interest, but a national interest that strengthens who we are.
“You see, all of us here tonight: We are all the lucky ones,” Walker said. “Because there are children across the country growing up in circumstances, not unlike those of my childhood — children who, day after day, experience in their lives the most terrible manifestations of inequality. For them, exposure to the arts, to imagination and ambition, remains a matter of chance or circumstance. But it shouldn’t be. It can’t be. Not in a democracy like ours.”
The New Jersey delegation’s outreach to the Congressional representatives on this day also focused on arts education as critical to a well-rounded education, and complementary to advancing objectives of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA).
Representatives who are not currently part of the Congressional STEAM Caucus were invited to show their support for the arts in STEM by joining over 75 other members. The fact that arts programs are now eligible for through ESSA for Title 1 funds and other federal resources, was also stressed to elected officials.
The federal budget process is a long one that extends throughout the summer months to come. For more detailed information on how federal arts funding and cultural policy affect the nonprofit arts industry in New Jersey, visit http://www.artpridenj.com/about-us/.