This post appeared in the March 28, 2017 Greenville News as a Guest Column. It was originally written for the SC Arts Alliance and is also available on their website.
This past Tuesday, our executive director, GP McLeer, led a team of eleven advocates from across South Carolina to Washington DC to join over 700 arts supporters from around the country for National Arts Advocacy Day. The annual event, organized by Americans for the Arts, puts arts advocates in front of members of Congress to ensure that the arts have a voice on Capitol Hill and to support the support of the arts through public policy and funding.
The timing of the event could not have been more appropriate. On March 16, President Trump released a blueprint for his executive budget for FY2018, calling for the elimination of, among other cultural agencies, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). While the President’s proposal is just that, a proposal, the appropriation process in both the House and Senate is set to begin in the coming days and weeks – a marathon that will stretch far into the summer. Additionally, new legislation such as the CREATE Act, the funding and implementation of the Every Student Succeeds Act, and the burgeoning hot topic of tax reform (including charitable deductions), were all up for discussion during Hill visits by arts advocates this year.
For South Carolina, the message to our Congressional leaders was simple: The arts are valued in our communities, in our state, and should continue to be valued in our nation.
Communities of all sizes have been using the arts as a tool for economic development all across South Carolina. For the new hometown of the South Carolina Arts Alliance, Fountain Inn, the continuous public investment in the Younts Center for Performing Arts has been credited as the sole change agent in turning a once almost-vacant Main Street into an economic engine. In rural communities in the SC Promise Zone, like Denmark, SC, community leaders have been working with the South Carolina Arts Commission (funded in part by the NEA) to use the arts to tackle community needs ranging from artistic vibrancy, to health, to literacy. And in large cities such as Charleston, public support of the arts has helped propel the city to be named one of the top tourist destinations in the world year after year.
The state Legislature has for 50 years supported the role the arts play in South Carolina when it created the South Carolina Arts Commission (SCAC). Since then, with broad bipartisan support, our legislators have placed value in the arts by continuing to support the state’s only arts agency. The grants made by the agency in nearly every county in South Carolina help arts organizations and artists make our communities stronger, more vibrant, and more economically successful.
Education in the state benefits when the arts are integrated into the culture and programs of the school day. Through state funding for the Arts in Basic Curriculum Project which helps schools and entire districts plan for the inclusion of the arts in their portfolio, or Read to Succeed Camps which last summer began integrating the arts to help improve reading retention, to grants made to individual teachers to support the purchase of arts materials for students, the arts play a major role in helping us achieve the Profile of the South Carolina Graduate, made law last year by the Legislature and the Governor.
Statewide recruitment of business includes highlighting cultural amenities in a given city or region, helping us secure investments by Michelin, Volvo, and Boeing. In fact, the state of Texas lost the competition to have Boeing’s headquarters in the state to Chicago in the early 2000s because there were not enough cultural facilities near the sites the state looked at. Big companies need vibrant arts scenes to recruit and retain talent. And in South Carolina, we use that to our advantage.
The National Endowment for the Arts, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2015, is currently funded at $148 million. Of all of the funding the NEA receives, 40% of it goes directly to regional and statewide agencies – in our area that includes the SC Arts Commission and South Arts (which covers 9 states). In South Carolina last year, over $1,000,000 in NEA grants made it to our state – at least one grant in every congressional district. $800,000 of that money went to the South Carolina Arts Commission. Those funds are matched by the state, plus some, and then used to support the work and grants of the agency as detailed above.
Funding for the NEA represents just 0.004% of the federal budget. And yet, that small investment yields a 9:1 return of private dollars used to match the grants across the country. The NEA’s original charter legislation stated that one of the agency’s purposes was to stimulate private sector investment – it’s doing its job remarkably well. Over the years, the argument has attempted to be made that with such a small % of the federal budget, why can’t “we” just encourage private philanthropy to fund the arts and cut government funding altogether? That view point has a major flaw – it assumes that private philanthropy is available all over America. Private philanthropy is geographically skewed, with only 5.5% of all private foundation funding reaches rural parts of America. In South Carolina, there is simply not a philanthropic infrastructure in place to support the arts in some of the most rural communities. NEA funding reaches every single congressional district in the country, and help reach over 16,000 communities across the country. Public funding is necessary to ensure Americans have access to quality arts experiences, regardless of where they live.
In addition to the role the NEA directly plays in supporting the arts in America, at the end of the day, a governmental budget, and really any budget, is a statement of values. In America, our economy, our jobs, and our military are perhaps the three highest values we look to invest in. The Bureau of Economic Analysis, the leading authority on analyzing the country’s economic well-being, maintains an arts and culture satellite account to measure the impact of the sector on the US economy. The latest results are in, and the arts and culture sector has an impact of $730 billion on the US economy, representing 4.2% of US GDP – a higher impact than Transportation and Construction, among other sectors – supporting 4.8 million jobs around the country.
For our returning and wounded veterans, the NEA has supported grants across the country to support programs that use the arts in therapy, provide better access to arts experiences for veterans and their families, and more. The NEA partners with the Department of Defense on Creative Forces to use the arts for rehabilitation services, and with Blue Star Museums to offer free admission to hundreds of museums across the country to veterans, active military, and their families between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
When it comes to jobs, the economy, and our military, investing in the arts are a major part of the equation.
The arts are a fiber that runs throughout our nation’s economy and well-being. They raise achievement in our education system, make our communities more vibrant, treat our military, and strengthen our economy…and all of this for only 0.004% of the federal budget.
Special thanks to the entire South Carolina Team!
Valerie Morris | Dean, School of the Arts, College of Charleston
Susie Surkamer | Executive Director, South Arts
Dr. Stephanie Milling | Head of Dance Education, Dir. of Undergraduate Studies, USC
Scott Shanklin-Peterson | Chair, Engaging Creative Minds
Mary Ellen Millhouse | Charleston Advocate
Al Weinrich | Charleston Advocate
Megan Barbee | USC Dance Education Major
Christine Smith | USC Dance Education Major
Leigh Ann Davis | USC Dance Education Major
Allie Anderson | USC Dance Education Major
GP McLeer | Executive Director, South Carolina Arts Alliance