As the crowd dispersed onto 42nd Street following a recent matinee of Marvin’s Room, theatregoer Mary Davis took a moment to fill out a postcard and drop it off in the lobby. The card was addressed to Senator Charles Schumer, and it called for his continued support of the National Endowment for the Arts.
The postcards are part of Roundabout’s “I Heart Arts” campaign, which encourages patrons to join the company in voicing support for the NEA in the wake of its potential elimination in the Trump administration’s proposed federal budget.
Davis had called representatives to discuss the importance of the NEA before, but the added push of a postcard does more than preach to the choir. “Senator Schumer is on our side,” she says, “but he represents a state that is not totally on our side. He needs to know his job is going to be more secure if he sticks with us.”
The persistent message emphasizes the need to not only disagree with the cuts—but to fight them as well.
Postcards are available to fill out and drop off in the lobbies of the American Airlines Theatre (currently home to Marvin’s Room) and the Laura Pels Theatre (Roundabout’s Off-Broadway home, where Napoli, Brooklyn currently plays). Since the start of the campaign in February, Roundabout has facilitated the delivery of over 3,000 postcards to Schumer’s office in Washington, D.C.
Signature Theatre Company also implemented the program in late April through its 2016–2017 season, which ended in mid-June. The Off-Broadway theatre mailed approximately 1,000 postcards during that time, according to a spokesperson for the company. Roundabout has also made assets available for other organizations to create their own “I Heart Arts” postcards.
The Trump administration’s 2018 budget proposal, released May 23, slashes the federal agency’s budget to $29 million to conduct an eventual closeout. The plan justifies the decision by stating, “In 2014, NEA funding represented just four percent of total public and private support for the arts in the United States.” However, because the NEA requires a dollar-for-dollar match from its grant recipients, each dollar funded can be leveraged up to $9 in additional support, leading to upwards of $500 million in national arts funding.
Grant money for the NEA goes toward a variety of performance organizations and arts education initiatives. Several shows, including this season’s Indecent, got their footing because of the agency. Roundabout Theatre Company received $20,000 this year to support their current world premiere production of Napoli, Brooklyn.
“For a company of our size, the NEA’s funding makes up only a tiny part of our budget,” says Roundabout Artistic Director Todd Haimes. “But the meaning behind that support is huge. It’s a statement that we live in a country that values the arts and what the arts have the power to mean in our lives.”
Haimes also recognizes the much more significant impact the NEA has on smaller arts organizations. He says the “I Heart Arts” campaign was “less about our fear of losing a funding source and more about lending our voice to all those theatre who rely on the NEA and its imprimatur to survive.”
In June, the NEA announced its second round of funding for the 2017 fiscal year. The 1,195 grants it awarded totaled $84.06 million and supported arts programming in every U.S. state and jurisdiction.
A representative for Schumer confirmed that his office has indeed received the “I Heart Arts” postcards. The senator provided the following statement to Playbill, affirming his stance in support of the NEA:
"Culture-and-entertainment is one of America’s great economic drivers, and investing in the arts is absolutely fundamental to the nurturing and growth of this critical sector in our economy, not to mention a deeper appreciation of the complex world we live in. President Trump’s budget takes a meat cleaver to the middle class, and those trying to get there, by gutting the programs that help them the most, including many, like the National Endowment for the Arts, that help create jobs and power the economy. I will fight these cuts tooth and nail and will continue to push for programs that foster creativity among our youth and develops the talent that powers the creative sector of our economy, that is such a force for export and a magnet that draws millions of visitors as well."