Small Art Organizations Threatened By Proposed Cuts to NEA Funding

40 percent of National Endowment for the Arts funds go to high-poverty neighborhoods, like Bedstuy, Brooklyn. If President Trump succeeds in cutting the agency from the federal budget, organizations in those neighborhoods will have to seek out private funding in order to stay afloat. And according to research, that may be a serious challenge. Here’s Rebecca Scott with the story. 


Bedford-Stuyvesant is less than ten miles away from the Metropolitan Museum. Like the Upper East Side, home of the Met, the streets are noisy with traffic and lined with churches, nail salons, and fast food restaurants. Unlike the Upper East Side, Bedstuy isn’t known for its abundance of cultural institutions. But now, Bedstuy is home to one of the largest collections of African art in the world .

 

KING 1: So here we are, looking towards Manhattan and straight out of the window in front of us is the Empire State Building and we can clearly see the top of it. That’s how close we are, yet we are in Bedstuy.

 

That’s Hollis King, the co-curator of “Brooklyn is Africa.” The exhibit is being put on by RestorationArt, an organization that brings visual and performing arts to its Bedstuy community. The exhibit features exquisitely detailed wooden masks, drums taller than King’s head, and the coffin of an African king, donated by a royal family. Admission to the exhibit is free. That’s because, King says, access to art should not be a luxury.

 

KING 2: You know, there’s this famous line from Winston Churchill who said, you know, they were going to cut the arts during hard times in Britain and he says, then why are we going to war? What are we fighting for? 

 

If funding for the NEA is entirely cut from the federal budget, RestorationArt stands to lose up to nearly a third of its funding. That could mean fewer exhibits, fewer events, and fewer art classes for community youth. But Executive Director Indira Etwaroo says RestorationArt will fight for that money. 

 

ETWAROO 1: We have no intention to sit quietly and watch what happens. 

 

Etwaroo says RestorationArt intends to join art organizations across New York City in protest of the NEA’s elimination. If the funding is cut, Etwaroo says there will be consequences far beyond the world of art and culture.

 

ETWAROO 2: Communities that have art centers and artistic spaces and artistic destinations, the crime rate is lower. 

 

There are two main ways arts institutions get money – government grants and private donations. 60 percent of private arts donations go to the top two percent of cultural institutions, like The Metropolitan Museum. But only 10 percent go to low-income neighborhoods like Bedstuy. That’s according to Holly Sidford, an expert on arts philanthropy. She says this disparity exists because donating to cultural institutions was never meant to be about charity. 

 

SIDFORD 2: It was class-based. Being associated with a museum or with an opera company or with a symphony was a way to affirm one’s social status. 

 

But social status doesn’t mean much to those who can’t afford the price of admission. Back in Bedstuy, King says to deny poor communities art is to deny them their humanity.

 

KING 3: That’s the reason why you spend a year in Japan learning to make tea. It’s why a kimono can be four hundred years old. It connects us to who we are. 

 

 Because most of America’s wealth is concentrated in white hands, Sidford says, top-tier art institutions focus primarily on Western European forms of art. But audiences for these institutions are growing older, whiter – and declining. Sidford says if cultural institutions want a secure future, they need to serve a more diverse population.

 

Rebecca Scott, Columbia Radio News.

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