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National Endowment for the Arts more than government agency


The obituary section in the newspaper is always a must-read for me. After reflecting on why, I recognize that it is a way to acknowledge and celebrate a life that influenced the world by having lived. It helps me to understand our impermanence as humans and that we are all part of one human family.

Although a government agency is not a human life, the obituary I read last week profoundly affected me. It is called:

“An Obituary: The National Endowment for the Arts, 52, of unnatural causes,” written by Michael Wilkerson, an opinion contributor to The Hill.

Under the Trump administration in Washington, the new federal budget may dramatically reduce or eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. The 2016 budget for the NEA was $148 million; a minuscule amount compared to most government agencies. This makes the act of cutting the NEA more of a symbolic gesture about what our values are rather than a fiscal one.

The NEA is an independent agency of the federal government that helps fund Americans through the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations and develop their creative aptitudes. The NEA is credited with creating arts councils in every state. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, NEA grants fund arts programs to ensure freedom of thought, imagination and inquiry.

In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, saying: “Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”

Some people suggest that the arts can be sustained with private funding. In generous and affluent communities, this is already happening. It is people at the low end of the economic ladder who stand to lose the most if the NEA is gone. NEA funding goes to every congressional district in the country; many programs in America will simply lose the resources for arts education and opportunities to participate in the arts.

Colorado Creative Industries is our state agency that reviews and administers NEA grants to a variety of arts organizations throughout our state. Several Durango nonprofit arts organizations, including the Durango Arts Center, are beneficiaries of CCI grants for general operating support, which is a core investment especially valuable to advancing accessibility to rural arts programs.

Johnson said, “It is in the neighborhoods of each community that a nation’s art is born. In countless American towns, there live thousands of obscure and unknown talents. The arts and the humanities belong to the people, for it is after all, the people who create them.”

I encourage you to email or write to our elected officials and let them know the arts matter. I encourage you to support your favorite arts organizations, join as a member, attend an event or take a class. I encourage you to experience the upcoming Creativity Festivity (April 4-15), a visual, performing and poetic arts celebration of Durango’s children and youth (www.DurangoArts.org).

Sandra Butler is the director of education for the Durango Arts Center and a practicing artist.