Actors’ Equity Association President Kate Shindle spoke to members of the press to address the Trump administration’s proposal to defund the National Endowment for the Arts. During the March 16 conference at the National Press Club, the Broadway alum delivered a message directed toward Congress, the President, and members of the community poised to fight for the protection of the organization.
“The NEA is on the chopping block, and it shouldn’t be,” the AEA leader said in her statement. Her speech emphasized the economic necessity of the endowment and its crucial return on investment for the country. She also reiterated that this cut would not only affect cultural hubs like New York and L.A., but it would also—and more immediately—be detrimental to all 435 congressional districts, particularly small rural communities where funding from the NEA is often “the only game in town.”
Following her speech, Shindle outlined steps “the average citizen” can do in response to this budget proposal: “First of all, contact your local arts organizations in your community and ask how they would like you to support them … Having a really organic grassroots uprising from people who value the arts center in their own communities is probably going to be more effective than just having people fly in from New York and L.A. Much of that may have to do with things like signing petitions—there are several circulating—and contacting your legislators and making it clear that the arts are not something that are frivolous; the arts are a job creator, an economic engine, and a valuable part of our community.”
See below for Shindle’s full statement delivered to the press:
(Editor’s Note: Bolded passages added for emphasis)
We're here today to make a strong statement in favor of full funding for the National Endowment for the Arts in the President's budget. For the past several weeks, those of us who make our living in the arts and those who have witnessed the power of the arts to transform and revitalize communities and cities across the country, have been listening attentively to speculation about the potential elimination of the NEA along with the National Endowment of the Humanities and the privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. While all three are valuable entities with important goals, my primary focus here today is the value of the NEA—not only with regard to American culture, but also specific to American job creation. In short, the NEA is on the chopping block, and it shouldn't be.
Actors’ Equity Association is a union representing more than 51,000 stage actors and stage managers across the country. At any given time, thousands of us are working on stages large and small all over America. A union for artists necessarily exists at the intersection of art and commerce, which can be a very uncomfortable place to be. But the upside of that is that we view the arts not only through a lens of cultural enrichment, but also a lens of jobs and the economy. The simple fact is that theatre and the arts are an economic engine for growth and jobs, and the NEA is a key part of that formula.
On this very block, you will find the Warner Theatre and the National Theatre. A couple blocks away is Ford's, and beyond that, the Shakespeare Theatre. Across the Mall is Arena Stage. Go the other way and you'll find the stages of the Kennedy Center. These houses don't just create jobs onstage and backstage: actors, stage managers, crew, musicians, and in the front of the house: box office personnel, ushers, concessions, and merchandise sales. They create administrative jobs for those who find the plays, develop the plays, fundraise, and manage the facilities. They commission writers, hire directors, choreographers, dramaturges, and orchestrators.
Beyond that, though, the economic stimulus to the surrounding community. Are the performers and creative team local? Because if not, you have to transport them and you have to house them. The performing arts obviously attract tourists. They encourage the establishment of ancillary businesses: restaurants, parking garages, hotels, and encourage both entrepreneurship and real estate development within their geographic spheres of influence.
Does anybody remember what 7th Street or 14th Street looked like 30 years ago? How about Times Square in the '80s? Have you been to Pittsburgh lately, where both management strategy and support in significant real estate development were an integral part of the drastic arts center renaissance there? How about Cleveland, where vacancy rates have significantly declined downtown as Playhouse Square has expanded? Has anybody been to Durham since the construction of the Durham Performing Arts Center, or to Greenville since they put in the Peace Center?
Across the country, the arts are a centerpiece for the revitalization of cities like Forth Worth and areas like North Hollywood and Old Las Vegas. I know this because I'm seeing it with my own eyes as I travel the country. And I'm not talking about simply building more bike lanes and espresso shops to attract creative hipsters. I'm talking about real jobs for exactly the middle-class America that has been gutted by evolutions in industry and manufacturing.
Does the government fund all this? Of course not. But is the NEA seed money deeply important when it comes to supporting this kind of work? You better believe it is. Across the country, the arts are a key driver of economic development. Millions of Americans—members of my union and many others—are employed as visual and performing artists.
According to a recent report from the Bureau of Economic Analysis, arts and cultural productions contributed more than $704 billion to the U.S. economy, and is greater than the contributions of the construction, transportation, and warehousing industries. Critically, these are also jobs that can't be outsourced and can't be off-shored. As you probably know, the NEA also requires at least a dollar-for-dollar local match from all of its grantees. Most organizations do much better. That means according to some estimates, the NEA's $148 million in federal funding actually generates $500 million in support for the arts nationwide. It is an enormous return on investment.
So, why do Americans benefit from and support the incredible work of the NEA? This endowment makes possible the work of local and regional theatres, and other arts organizations in more than 16,000 communities. The arts are not a frill, a luxury, or some kind of extended vanity project. The arts are a part of who we are as a nation, and the arts put our nation to work. Millions of people have jobs based on spinoff effects in hotels, restaurants, retail stores, and other business that benefit from spending on the arts. And live theatre is a tremendous resource for local community development. Theatres bring audiences, audiences spend money, and a lively arts scene brings people together and makes our communities safer, more prosperous, and more enjoyable. This is not a theory; this is not spin; this is fact.
Additionally, the U.S. is a global leader in the arts. Movies, plays, books, and other work that originates here is extremely popular with overseas audiences both in the home countries and when they visit us here in America. And while we run a trade deficit in many sectors, the U.S. arts industry built a $24 billion surplus with our trading partners. Zeroing out an agency that brings $24 billion export industry, yet costs us only a $148 million, will hurt everyone.
So we all lose if the NEA is eliminated. But think about a program that supports the arts in all 435 congressional districts. It's the small, medium-sized rural communities that will bear the brunt of this cut. What happens in Iowa, Idaho, and Indiana? If we lose the NEA, we will lose the agency that supports youth theatre in Honolulu, new plays at the Actors Theatre of Louisville, theatre featuring actors with disabilities in Dunwoody, Georgia, and beyond the stage, the military healing arts partnership, which creates important creative art therapy that helps our nation's wounded heroes begin on the road to recovery.
The NEA funded Shakespeare in American Communities program, like so many of its grants benefit schools and children. This grant assists 40 theatre companies in 25 states and here in the District of Columbia to hold performances, artistic and technical workshops, symposia about the productions, and educational programs in schools from coast to coast. Many of the local and regional theatres where I have personally performed during my career would struggle to exist without the key strategic investments form the NEA. These local and regional theatres are where new voices are heard, new pieces are developed, and the seeds are planted for the next generation of art that supports American jobs at home and American exports abroad.
So, for members of Congress, here's the takeaway: the NEA supports the arts in your district. Eliminating the NEA means fewer jobs in your district. Americans understand that the arts are vital to the country, and we'd actually like to see more public support, not less. The December 2015 Ipsos Public Affairs poll, conducted on behalf of Americans for the Arts, indicates that by a huge majority—55 percent to 19 percent—Americans say we should more than double public funding for the arts. Americans support funding for live theatre and arts programming because we see the impact it has in our lives and communities. President Trump has promised to be a voice for all Americans in Washington. The president and the Congress should listen to what the American people are saying. Live theatre and other performing and visual arts are an important part of vibrant, growing, and economically healthy communities.
Mr. President: You were the brains behind The Art of the Deal. When deals crossed your desk, the guaranteed matching funds for every dollar you invested, you signed them. In that book, you wrote extensively about leverage. Estimates reveal that each dollar in NEA seed money can be leveraged to result in a total of nine dollars in public and private money to support the arts in America. The NEA is an exceptional example of a relatively small portion of the federal budget paying huge dividends for arts institutions in jobs.
You also wrote: "I like thinking big; I always have. To me, it's very simple: If you're going to be thinking anyway, you might as well think big." I ask that you think big about the value—both in terms of culture and in terms of dollars and jobs—that the arts provide in this great country. The NEA is part of who we are and what connects us as a nation. Let's keep the momentum we have by expanding—not cutting—support for American artists.