All the arts for all the people – National Arts Advocacy Day 2017

Arts Wisconsin Executive Director Anne Katz joined over 700 other advocates coming from every state and several US territories at National Arts Advocacy Day, March 20-21, in Washington, DC. The annual event, organized by Americans for the Arts, Arts Wisconsin’s national partner in arts advocates, connects constituents with decision makers to speak up for the importance of federal investment and pro-active policy in the arts, creativity, and community.

Of course, the timing for people to gather together to speak up was “interesting” and fortuitous.  Less than a week before Arts Advocacy Day, the new administration released the first draft of the FY 2018 federal budget. This called for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), as part of proposed cuts to a wide range of agencies supporting the social, civic, environmental and educational infrastructure of this country.  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.

And here’s an update as of 3/29/17:  yesterday, The Trump Administration added another proposal which would immediately cut the National Endowment for the Arts and other cultural agencies. For the current fiscal year (FY2017), the Trump Administration would like Congress to immediately cut $15 million from the NEA and NEH apiece, which would affect the federal budget in the next five months of the fiscal year.  Action steps are at the end of this article.

On National Arts Advocacy Day, Wisconsin Arts Board Director George Tzougros and Anne, joined by NYU museum studies grad student Kathryn Walker of Milwaukee, walked the halls of Congress.  Eight Congressional meetings to make the case directly, two stops at Congressional offices to drop off information, two tram rides to get from the House side of the Capitol to the Senate side, one meeting in a storeroom-turned-meeting-room with a giant Aaron Rogers on the wall, one quick lunch where we ran into Tim Shields, former Director of Milwaukee Repertory Theater and now with the McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey, lots of conversations with arts advocates and advocates for other causes from around the country, endless elevator rides, lots of energy and inspiration, and six tired feet..that’s what the day was all about!

During the conference, we were inspired by Darren Walker, director of the Ford Foundation, who delivered the annual Nancy Hanks Lecture on the Arts and Public Policy at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, calling for the arts as “a national interest.” Read about it here.

What was our message on National Arts Advocacy Day (and after)?

  • The arts are an investment in economic vitality, education for the 21st century, healthy, vibrant communities, and engaged residents.
  • 8 million Americans work in arts and culture industries.
  • The arts contribute $730 billion to the national GDP (Gross Domestic Product), which is larger than the construction, transportation, and travel & tourism industries.
  • The arts generate $22.3 billion in federal, state, and local government revenue.

What do we know?

Public investment in the arts and creativity leverages broad, private support and has positive direct and indirect economic effects. Agencies like the NEA and Wisconsin Arts Board play a critical role in making the arts happen in every corner of Wisconsin, especially rural, undeserved communities. We know that a robust arts education improves test scores and graduation outcomes for students. We know that arts enrichment aids quality of life for older adults.

Communities of all sizes throughout Wisconsin are making the most of public investment in the arts through the NEA, Wisconsin Arts Board, and in some cases, city and county government, including:

  • Confluence Project, Eau Claire: this public-private partnership initiative is redeveloping a blighted area in the heart of Eau Claire, at the confluence of the Eau Claire and Chippewa Rivers. The project includes UW-Eau Claire and community space, and mixed-use retail and housing.
  • Croix Falls Civic Auditorium: civic theater restoration project as integral to downtown revitalization and cultural tourism development, supported with grants from the Wisconsin Arts Board and National Trust for Historic Preservation
  • Milwaukee Art Museum: Milwaukee’s symbol of the city and the largest art museum in the state of Wisconsin, with almost 400,000 visitors each year and a stellar art education program serving over 50,000 Milwaukee-area youth each year through programs, tours, and internships.

The National Endowment for the Arts, which celebrated its 50th Anniversary in 2015, is currently funded at $148 million. 40% of that funding goes directly to regional and statewide agencies, including the Wisconsin Arts Board and Arts Midwest, the service organization for the Upper Midwest states.   Approximately $820,000 went to the Wisconsin Arts Board this year, which is matched by the state to support arts engagement, outreach and education in every corner of the state.

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?

There are two answers to that question:  first of all, private philanthropy is already a pillar of support for the arts across the country.  Individuals, corporations, and foundations are incredibly generous when it comes to supporting the arts in their communities.  Second, private philanthropy is geographically skewed, with only 5.5% of all private foundation funding reaches rural parts of America.  The NEA’s funding is a great equalizer – it reaches every single congressional district in the country and ensures that 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, education, civic issues, and the military, investing in the arts is 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.

What can you do?  Plenty!

Your advocacy matters, and your voices matter. Everyone who cares about the arts, creativity, and community must make themselves heard.

With Wisconsin’s Arts Day and National Arts Advocacy Day behind us, what’s next and what can you do?  A lot, and please do it right now.  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 – but you can start right now to make a difference where you live.  Here are some actions:

  • Send a message to your U.S. Representative and to both U.S. Senators from Wisconsin asking for their support. Americans for the Arts has made it easy for you to send a personalized email message directly to your rep.  Start here to send your message, then ask your colleagues, coworkers, friends and family to do the same.
  • Use AFTA’s Arts Mobilization Center for up to the minute info on the arts at the federal level.  Use the hashtags #SavetheNEA and #ArtsAdvocacy.
  • FollowArts Wisconsin on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for timely updates, and check our website,, for details on specific issues and news.  Make sure you, your colleagues, and your friends are signed up to receive Arts Wisconsin’s Arts Action Alerts through our Legislative Action Center.  Check up to date info at our National Funding Issues page.

We’ll keep you in the loop and up to date.  Get in touch at with questions.  Thanks for all you do.