VTDigger: Advocates Predict Rural Arts Decline if Federal Funding Lost
MONTPELIER – Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., joined Vermont arts and humanities leaders Wednesday to warn about potential cuts to cultural programs across the Green Mountains.
The heads of various organizations – from Burlington City Arts to the Weston Playhouse – said President Donald Trump’s proposed reductions in federal arts funding would have devastating impacts on the state’s cultural offerings.
In 2016, Vermont received more than $4.7 million in arts-related grants from various federal agencies. That includes $1.7 million from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, $1.1 million from the Institute of Museum and Library Services, $983,800 from the National Endowment for the Arts and $853,072 from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Trump’s budget proposal, unveiled in March, would terminate the National Endowment for the Arts, privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and make cuts to various other cultural grant programs.
Welch lambasted Trump’s plan as a “cavalier disregard of the importance of institutions” like libraries and museums, and he said the arts bring both communal and economic advantages to rural regions.
“It’s really more about the heart and the soul than the economic benefits,” Welch said.
Arts administrators told Welch what federal grants have meant for their organizations.
Vermont PBS CEO Holly Groschner said 18 percent of her organization’s budget comes from the federal government to support everything from children’s programs to a staff of 38.
Tom McKone, executive director of Montpelier’s Kellogg-Hubbard Library, talked about the $900,000 in federal grants that helped expand the library’s book collection.
Thomas Denenberg, director of the Shelburne Museum, spoke of the federal money that offsets insurance costs when high-profile works are on loan to the small museum.
“What the NEA does is level the playing field for the arts,” said Charma Bonanno, director of development for the Weston Playhouse. “Otherwise, all the arts in the nation would be congregated into cities all over the place, and states like ours could not be the vibrant arts centers that we are.”
Alex Aldrich, who ran the Vermont Arts Council for 20 years and retired in March, let loose in his condemnation of the cuts, telling Welch that the Republican Party holds harmful and misguided policy positions.
“We’ve got a president and, frankly, a large number of Congress members — many of them are your colleagues — who have lost their way, if they ever had a way,” Aldrich said. “And now we’re suffering at the hands of people who don’t understand that, even if they do succeed in eliminating these incredibly important entities from the budget, they are still going to figure out how to fund the things they want to fund.”
According to The New York Times, the national endowments and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting together receive significantly less than 0.1 percent of annual federal spending.
Vermont legislative budget writers have looked to trim funding to Vermont PBS. House members dropped a $271,000 appropriation for Vermont PBS from next year’s spending bill after the broadcaster sold a license for $56 million in February. Groschner has said the deal won’t diminish the network’s need for support from government and donors. The sale proceeds would cover less than a decade of operations if spent on short-term needs.