The Trump administration announced on March 16 a new budget proposal, which would cut all funding to the National Endowment for the Arts, the congressional act created in 1965 to support artistic excellence. If the proposal is met with approval by Congress, it will go into effect at the start of the new fiscal year, beginning Oct. 1.
Artists across mediums have spoken out against the budget outline, the full title of which is “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again.” Actors, specifically, have spoken out, as many of them have previously or currently rely on NEA funds. Chief among the proposal’s critics is Actors’ Equity Association President Kate Shindle, who released a statement March 16 on behalf of the union, condemning the plan from a mainly economic standpoint.
“The elimination of NEA seed money for theatre is a job killer,” Shindle began in the statement, first obtained by Time Out New York and which was released hours after the proposal was made public. “Not just for the actors and musicians onstage, or the writers and creative teams who create the material. Live theatre also provides jobs for people behind the scenes, like the stage managers and crew; and the people in front of the house, like ushers, box office and concession staff as well as those who have administrative jobs. Live theatre means work for those down the block: the wait staff in the restaurant, the bartenders, the taxi drivers and the parking lot attendants, to name only a few.”
Actors’ Equity represents 50,000 members of the theatrical community, including those onstage as well as stage managers. And though the elimination of the NEA would have a disproportionate effect on New York City, where the theater community runs deep, Shindle insists the budget’s effects would also be felt in cities and towns not necessarily known for having a vibrant theater scene.
“There is so much irrefutable evidence that the arts serve as an economic engine, even and especially in cities and towns whose factories or industry jobs have disappeared,” says Shindle. “All together, the arts are a $700 billion industry employing directly 4.7 million Americans and millions more indirectly.”
Shindle, who has led the Actors’ Equity Association as its president since 2015, concludes her statement with an appeal to logic, citing the tangible financial losses, which will be incurred from the defunding if it’s to be approved.
“But the impact of the arts doesn’t end with jobs, or even with general support for the value of culture,” she says. “Revitalizing these communities through the arts also leads to a significant increase in property values and thus property taxes, and shores up the ability of local governments to provide vital services for their residents. Put simply, the money provided to artists and institutions by the NEA is not about financing vanity projects. It’s about providing seed money that, for a relatively low price tag, encourages large-scale investment in community development through the arts.”
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