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AAF Member Writes Op-Ed Supporting the Arts

Posted on: Apr 10, 2018

This Sunday, Patrick Brien, Arts Action Fund Member, Executive Director of the Riverside Arts Council and Board Member of Californians for the Arts, published an opinion article supporting the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in the Press Enterprise newspaper. Brien recenty attended Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C., and had the opportunity to meet with Representative Ken Calvert (R-CA-42), who serves as the Chairman of the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, which allocates funding for the NEA. Using data about the impact of the arts in his own community, as well as personal experience, Brien crafted an op-ed that gives strong credence to the value of federal funding for the arts in America. You can read the article online here, or below. 


Wide reach of National Endowment for the Arts touches all Americans

By Patrick Brien | Riverside Arts Council

Published: April 6, 2018 (online), April 8, 2018 (print)

I recently had the opportunity to work with other supporters of the arts as part of Arts Advocacy Day, an annual program of Americans for the Arts in Washington, D.C. The most important part of my trip was meeting with Rep. Ken Calvert, representative of California’s 42nd Congressional District. Rep. Calvert is the Chair of the House Subcommittee of the Interior, which sets funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. I admired the beautiful view of the U.S. Capitol, located across the street from his Rayburn Building office. He was in between votes, having rushed from the House floor to make our meeting, and would not have long. But I have had the honor of meeting with him on several occasions, so he enjoyed the respite and sat relaxed in a chair, his dachshund Cali (short for California) on his lap. He spoke candidly of the need for every recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts grant to share success stories with their congressional representatives. That and other parts of our conversation would be shared with my colleagues both here in the Inland region and throughout the country.

The arts as an economic driver and as defining elements of community building are important discussion points, as President Trump’s administration for the second time put forth a budget recommendation that would have eliminated the National Endowment for the Arts. Fortunately, with the leadership of Rep. Calvert and so many others on both sides of the proverbial aisle, a long-delayed fiscal year 2018 Omnibus spending bill was passed by Congress on March 21. In this bill, the National Endowment for the Arts was not only saved, but was given a nearly $3 million increase to $152.849 million.

The NEA does so much more than fund art exhibits and performances. The funds allocated by the NEA support programs that provide education, health services, rehabilitation for veterans, community engagement, and more. The arts revitalize communities and strengthen our society. As evidence, one need look no farther than the communities represented by our two Congressmen, Reps. Calvert and Mark Takano.

What some fail to realize is that the visual and performing arts are a vital part of the economic prosperity of the U.S. According to a new report from the National Endowment for the Arts and the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the arts contribute more than $760 billion to the U.S. economy, and employ almost 5 million workers across the U.S. In California alone, arts and cultural production contributed more than $174 billion, or 7.1 percent to the state’s economy. Furthermore, this same report shows that the creative industries in California currently employ 674,865 workers, who earn a cumulative of almost $74 million in wages and benefits. From these numbers, it is clear that the arts have a broad and significant economic impact in our state of California.

Looking with an even narrower lens, some of our own congressional districts (CA-41 and CA-42) specifically benefit from the NEA’s work. In the past five years, our two districts have received a total of $287,400 in NEA grants, positively affecting hundreds of thousands of residents. Of those grants, 13 were direct grants, which have supported programs and performances that add depth and opportunity to our communities. For example, direct NEA grants have supported the Latino History Month Music & Dance Program; Kids Rock Free, which offers reduced-cost music lessons to underserved youth; and a partnership between STUDIO 395 and the City of Elsinore, which provides vocational skills in arts-related fields to the city’s large Hispanic population. A recent full-page ad from Americans for the Arts featured in this newspaper illustrates the impact of the many creative industries across a multitude of arts disciplines throughout our districts. These organizations make it possible for residents of our districts to gain access to cultural understanding, education, and practical skills that will serve them throughout their lives. Thanks to grants from the NEA, these arts organizations and small businesses can impact our communities.

Aside from direct grants, the NEA also awards grants to states and regions who can then distribute funding to their own communities. This means that the NEA makes it possible for the California Arts Council and the Western States Arts Federation to make grants that also serve CA-41 and CA-42 residents. In the past 5 years, these two organizations have been able to distribute more than $137,800 in grants that have reached more than 283,700 people who reside in our congressional districts.

In addition to funding, the NEA sponsors programming that reaches all members of our community. The NEA’s Poetry Out Loud program has given over 300 high school students from schools across our districts the opportunity to immerse themselves in great poetry while engaging in local, regional, state and national competition. The Big Read program has engaged more than 2,700 students and adults who live in CA-42 with American literature through 19 community events. The Blue Star Museums program has given thousands of military personnel and families free admission to the Riverside Art Museum in CA-41.

The work of the National Endowment for the Arts touches every American, creating strong and vibrant communities. Although this particular threat to the NEA has been defeated, advocating on behalf of what the agency means to this country is an ongoing effort that must continue. I left Washington, D.C. with a sense of optimism. It is my hope that the energy I encountered in our nation’s capital spreads through communities across the country, raising awareness and securing future public investment in the arts.

Patrick Brien is executive director of the Riverside Arts Council.