The Arts Are Good for the Soul and the Economy

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Janet Langsam

The year 1965 was a mixed bag. “The Sound of Music” played to crowds. The Beatles released “Help.” Music legend Jerry Garcia came on the scene. More troops were sent to Vietnam. Women hiked up their hemlines to don the mini skirt. The Civil Rights march from Selma to Montgomery rocked the country. President Lyndon Johnson envisioned The Great Society introducing Medicare and launching the National Endowment for the Arts. Communities across the country including our own were given a stake in the arts in America.

The major driver of arts initiatives across the country is the National Endowment for the Arts, which distributes some $148 million a year to organizations nationwide in every Congressional District. However, warning clouds have been circling the NEA for some time, and, right now, it is unclear whether the agency will survive the efforts in Washington to disband it. These efforts include eliminating funding to organizations like the NEA to curb spending.

The arts are not only good for the soul according to Americans for the Arts, they also are good for the economy. They report that 4.8 million Americans work in arts and culture industries and that the arts generate $22.3 billion in federal, state, and local government revenue. In Westchester, 4,800 individuals work in the cultural industry and produce a $156 million economic impact.

Sens. Charles Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand know that, in New York, funding for the arts is essential. They both have supported the NEA and most recently, in January, they announced $712,500 in federal funds to the organization, allowing organizations to support residencies for artists, exhibitions, professional development and public engagement and outreach. In 2016 alone, the NEA awarded a total of $16,717,675 in grant money to 522 nonprofit and governmental arts organizations throughout the country. Of this NEA funding, over $750,000 went to New York State Council on the Arts. The state then matched these federal funds and awarded grants to 1,240 arts organizations in 215 communities across New York State, including of course Westchester.

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. NEA grants are indeed coveted. Why? Because winning one tells the world that the grantee is operating an impactful local program of top national quality. But it’s not just about New York and Westchester; it’s about our nation and for what it stands.

Janet Langsam, CEO of ArtsWestchester, White Plains


Editor’s Note: The House Appropriations Committee approved the Fiscal Year 2018 Interior appropriations bill July 18th, allotting $145 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. That marks a decline of $5 million, far less than the Trump administration’s originally proposed plan to eliminate the endowment entirely. The bill still needs approval by the entire House, which is expected to take up the budget in the coming weeks, as well as the Senate before going to President Trump for his signature.

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