A Better View of the Future

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When the National Endowment for the Arts was formed in 1965, Congress called on society to support “cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.” Today, as news breaks that the National Endowment for the Arts faces elimination, that better view of the future just dimmed.

The arts strengthen society, and greatly inform who we are and who we’ll become. The NEA plays no small role in helping the arts fulfill that promise. Each year it funds thousands of concerts, readings, performances, and exhibitions across all 50 states. In 2016 that included a dance festival in Alabama, a new museum near where I grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, an architecture and design competition in Texas, an arts festival in Kentucky, and so much more.

Eliminating the NEA would eliminate hundreds of millions of dollars in support of working artists. For every dollar of the endowment's $140 million budget that it awards in grants, it generates nearly ten times as much in matching support. But beyond money, the NEA is a powerful symbol of the meaning the work of artists brings to all of our lives, the value we place in our shared cultural heritage, and a public reminder that we have the power to shape the world we inhabit.

When The New York Times called Kickstarter “the people’s NEA” a few years back, we were asked whether we saw ourselves as somehow in opposition to the NEA — a potential alternative to federal funding of the arts. Not at all. Kickstarter is a mission-driven Public Benefit Corporation working to help artists live sustainable lives. We know a greater diversity of funding sources means a greater likelihood that creators will create. And in our view of the future, the world is better off with the NEA in it. 

Today’s federal budget proposal calling for the endowment’s end is disheartening. As that proposal is processed in the coming months we hope to see Congress voice renewed commitment to the arts. In the meantime, you can voice your own support. Learn more about the creative works the NEA is currently supporting in your state. Pick up a copy of Tyler’s Cowen’s excellent book Good and Plenty: The Creative Successes of American Arts Funding, chronicling America’s tradition of funding artists. Next week is the 30th annual Arts Advocacy Day — head to D.C. and represent! Find your congressperson and let them know you support the National Endowment for the Arts. And reach out to us, too. We’d love to hear from you with ideas on how we can all support the arts for a better view of the future.