Fiction & Creative Nonfiction

Cutting Federal Funding of the Arts & Humanities Short-Sighted

This piece originally appeared in the Poughkeepsie Journal on March 22, 2017

Also see Currents, which is put out by the The Benjamin Center at SUNY New Paltz which commented on my thoughts.

With crucial federal programs like the ACA, EPA, Planned Parenthood and Medicaid under attack by the Trump Administration, it may be easy to overlook some of the other domestic programs slated for elimination. Yet the proposed budget President Trump introduced this week calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Under the CPB’s auspices, local NPR and PBS stations offer the only free broadcast venues dedicated solely to the presentation of accurate news, arts and educational programming.

The elimination of federal funding for the arts and humanities is especially problematic for those of us who live in the Hudson Valley. According to a SUNY New Paltz’s Center for Research, Regional Education and Outreach study, Mid-Hudson arts & culture organizations attract 2.6 million day and one million overnight visitors to the region each year, injecting $498 million directly into our local economy every year. The local arts scene also directly and indirectly employs nearly 5000 residents. In Dutchess, Ulster and Orange Counties, Arts Mid-Hudson helps provide grants to 393 organizations and individual artists.  Guess where much of Arts Mid-Hudson’s funding comes from?  From the New York Council for the Arts, which is funded by New York State and yes, the NEA.

Funding for the NEA, NEH and CPB combined account for less than 0.01 percent of the federal budget, according to The New York Times. We spend 1/40th of what Germany does on government funded arts programs–they average $20 per citizen, we a measly 41 cents. Yet that small pittance matters immensely, providing much-needed money to support community arts programs, new works and making the arts accessible to people in all 50 states and affordable for students and the less wealthy through discounted and free performances, museum visits, lectures and other public arts events.

Given the influence of the Hudson River School painters, the Hudson Valley has long been viewed as the “birthplace of American Art,” as well as home to great writers like Washington Irving, Herman Melville, Edith Wharton and James Fenimore Cooper, all of whom helped depict and define the culture and society of 19th-century America.  Americans can learn more about the importance and impact the Hudson River School and these legendary authors had on both our nation and the world through PBS programs like American Masters and American Experience, both of which receive funding from the NEH.

On the campaign trail, President Trump promised that he would make America great again. Eliminating federal funding for the arts and humanities will ensure that he and any legislator who votes to do so will inevitably fail in that mission. Only through the creation of literature, dance, theater, music and visual art (and sharing it through museums, performance halls, libraries and broadcast institutions like NPR and PBS) will our nation’s achievements and diverse culture be captured, celebrated and admired not just a decade from now, but for centuries to come.

Poughkeepsie resident Sandi Sonnenfeld is the author of the award-winning memoir, This Is How I Speak (Seattle: Impassio Press), and more than 30 published short stories and essays. 

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