April is National Poetry Month. Thus, I paraphrase:
"Oh, somewhere in this favoured land the sun is shining bright, / The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light; / And somewhere men are laughing, and somewhere children shout, / But there is no joy in America-the NEA struck out."
Perhaps you recognize this selection I appropriated from Ernest Lawrence Thayer's "Casey at the Bat: A Ballad of the Republic Sung in 1888." I chose this classic poem to make a point about the influence and importance of poetry, of the arts in our lives.
Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is the independent federal agency that helps give people across America the opportunity to participate in and experience the arts. The NEA is the only funder, public or private, that provides equal access to the arts in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories, supporting performances, exhibitions, healing arts and arts education programs, festivals, and artist residencies.
And the NEA is on the verge of striking out.
Yes, I understand - and advocate for - the need to reduce the federal deficit, and yet the current White House budget proposal does not do that. And yes, I also understand that reducing the federal deficit means a reduction in spending ... a reduction that causes the least harm and has the most impact. This budget doesn't do that either.
We will never, ever agree on what causes the least harm, but what has the most impact on budget reduction is pretty quantifiable. For example, funding for the National Endowment of the Arts is on the chopping block. Yet the National Endowment for the Arts' 2016 appropriation of $148 million constitutes only .004 percent of the federal budget.
Additionally, NEA grants provide a significant return on investment of federal dollars with $1 of NEA direct funding leveraging up to $9 in private and other public funds, resulting in $500 million in matching support in 2016.
With only the $148 million annual budget, the NEA investments in the arts contributes to a $730 billion arts and culture economic industry, which includes 4.2 percent of the annual Gross Domestic Product, and supports 4.8 million jobs that yield a $26 billion trade surplus for the country.
Colorado Creative Industries, the NEA's arm in our state, reports that Colorado ranks first in the nation for percentage of residents who personally perform or create artworks, second for residents who attend films and visit historic buildings, neighborhoods and parks, and third in reading literature and in attendance for live music, theater or dance.
So ... what do we here in Colorado want the "Ballad of the Republic Sung in 2018" to be, 130 years after Casey took the bat?
NEA staff cannot lobby or participate in efforts to influence Congress regarding appropriations, law, legislation, or policy. But we can. If we want to fight for the arts in our communities, we need to step up to the plate. All of us. Call or write Colorado's Congressional delegation and tell them what the arts mean to Colorado, and to you.
Tell them not to let the NEA strike out.
Andrea Doray is a writer who reminds us that private funding will not sustain the arts. And, of U.S. charitable giving rural areas receive only 5.5 percent of all philanthropic dollars. NEA funding makes sure there is equitable distribution of funds, particularly for underserved communities, across the nation. Contact Andrea at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.