Local arts organizations fearful over Trump proposal eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts

Posted at 6:39 AM, May 01, 2017
and last updated 2017-05-02 05:52:13-04

Congress will vote on the federal budget soon that has a proposal to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA and other federal organizations provide thousands of dollars in grant money to art groups throughout Northeast Ohio.

When word came that NEA funding would be eliminated, fears among local organizations about how they would make up that loss in funding, began circulating.

“It was sad and worrisome for us,” said Lee Lazar, the Executive Director of the Rainey Institute.

“When kids come into this program, they’re learning to play their instruments yes, but that’s really a vehicle, the orchestra’s a vehicle for them to learn things like teamwork, integrity, perseverance,” said Courtney Bonifant, the El Sistema Orchestra Coordinator at the Rainey Institute.

The El Sistema Orchestra program offered by Rainey is responsible for teaching 50 kids every day to play violin, cello, viola and bass. If it were not for this program, many of these kids would never know they joy of playing an instrument.

“The NEA budget is just a tiny drop in the budget for the federal government but to an organization like Rainey Institute, $10,000 is a significant grant,” said Lazar.

The Rainey Institute is able to have the El Sistema Orchestra because of a $10,000 grant they received from the National Endowment for the Arts.

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The NEA’s entire $148 million budget is on the chopping block this year with the Trump administration calling to eliminate it, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. All four organizations combined make up .02 percent of the nearly $4 trillion federal budget.

“A country is its art in a lot of ways. It’s its land, it’s its park system, it’s its people, but it’s also known by its art,” said Pam Young, the Executive Director of DANCECleveland.

DANCECleveland brings world renowned dance companies to Playhouse Square. The NEA funds organizations throughout Northeast Ohio, but also in every single Congressional District in the United States.

“There’s so much misconception about the National Endowment for the Arts that it’s some kind of welfare for the arts. No, this is an award for top level excellence,” said Raymond Bobgan, the Executive Director of the Cleveland Public Theater.

The Cleveland Public Theater in Gordon Square is funded by the NEA too. Bobgan used to sit on an NEA grant committee, NEA funds he knows well, are not easy to come by and are considered highly prestigious.

“So when an organization gets that kind of funding, it also is like a stamp, like a good housekeeping stamp and says, this work is important,” said Bobgan.

But taxpayers, the Trump administration argues are already bogged down and footing the federal bill for far too much. So while the work the NEA does is important, the administration claims, it signals an easy savings for taxpayers.

“I don’t think you could come in here and see what these kids are doing every day and think oh, no this program isn’t important,” said Bonifant.

In 2017, of $30 million distributed nationwide, 28 arts organizations in Ohio received $682,000 from the NEA.