Following the release of the Trump administration’s budget proposal, myriad artists and arts organizations have spoken out in opposition of the potential elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the National Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Among those leaders: legendary director and 21-time Tony Award recipient Harold Prince.
The theatre luminary recently invited Playbill to his office at Rockefeller Plaza as he read a prepared statement, voicing his frustration over the budget outline, the significance of the arts, and a plea to help protect these federal agencies.
Take a look at the video above.
“It is a fact that the arts are a major contribution to the quality of life in our society,” Prince said in his statement. “I have witnessed first-hand how enriched society is by these organizations.”
Prince, whose numerous directorial credits include The Phantom of the Opera, A Little Night Music, Evita, Sweeney Todd, Candide, and Kiss of the Spider Woman, served on the NEA’s National Council on the Arts from 1976 to 1982. In 1994, he received a Kennedy Center Honors Award, and in 2000, he was honored with the National Medal of Arts.
Prince continued, “I urge anyone interested in protecting the quality of life in our great country to step up and speak out in support of the Public Broadcasting System and National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts. And speak now before it’s too late.”
See below for a transcript of Prince’s full statement:
I served on the National Council on the Arts—the governing body of the National Endowment for the Arts—from 1976 to 1982. When sworn in by Nancy Hanks, its executive director and a close ally of Nelson Rockefeller, I was seated beside Eudora Welty, the great southern novelist. Six years later when I was rotated out, seated next to me was Jacob Lawrence, the eminent African-American painter. During those years, I shared meetings in Washington, D.C., with playwrights, actors, architects, poets, composers, conductors, designers—people from every discipline of the artistic community.
The Endowment was budgeted for under $150 million. At the same time, the artistic budget for just the city of Vienna dedicated solely to theatrical activity was well over the equivalent of $200 million. And there were similar artistic budgets in many countries worldwide.
During the period of my tenure, we monitored arts organizations—orchestras, museums, theatres—throughout the United States, and the number of first-rate regional theatres escalated from a handful to well over 500, serving large and small cities and nurturing not only young artists, but familiarizing audiences with the impact of arts organizations on their lives. It is a fact that the arts are a major contribution to the quality of life in our society.
So when I heard that the current administration was planning to erase the Endowments for the Arts and Humanities and the Public Broadcasting System, I was disturbed, because I have witnessed first-hand how enriched society is by these organizations. Actually, the government’s investments in those Endowments represent a drop in the bucket. Essentially, its influence acts as an imprimatur to wealthy benefactors and corporations to join in financing the Endowments.
The maintenance of these three organizations posited against President Trump’s recommended $54 billion-appropriation for the defense department dramatically illustrates how foolish and impractical this proposal is.
Before it’s too late, I urge anyone interested in protecting the quality of life in our great country to step up and speak out in support of the Public Broadcasting System and National Endowments for the Humanities and the Arts. And speak now before it’s too late.
As I was preparing this, I found a letter to the New York Times written on November 9, 1997, and I’m going to read the last paragraph to you:
Our nation appears to be racing ever faster in pursuit of mediocrity. To erase the endowments would merely accelerate the speed of that descent. Count me among the elitist wannabes. And count yourself among them before it’s too late.