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Trump's proposed budget cuts worry local arts organizations

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Posted at 12:02 PM, Mar 27, 2017
and last updated 2017-03-27 12:02:56-04

CINCINNATI -- Ohio's share of money from the National Endowment for the Arts is the second-highest in the nation, which means the state's arts organizations, including those across Greater Cincinnati, stand to take significant cuts if President Donald Trump's proposed budget becomes reality.

The NEA, which Trump's budget proposes to eliminate entirely, awards statewide partnership grants annually based on state population and the competitiveness of the art being created by organizations within the state. The Ohio Arts Council collected $983,200 last year, more than any other state but California, and sends that money to support the work of arts organizations across the state.

“As a state — and you can extrapolate out to Cincinnati — we certainly have a lot at stake,” said Alecia Kintner, CEO of ArtsWave, Greater Cincinnati's leading arts organization. “There's nearly $1 million at play that's largely operating support, support that really makes the arts happen and would be very, very difficult to replace.”

Most arts organizations across Greater Cincinnati, large and small, receive some sort of support from the Ohio Arts Council. The $12 million budget for Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, for example, includes $190,000 from the arts council, said artistic director Blake Robison. Losing all or even a chunk of that money would affect programming.

“That's profound nuts-and-bolts support,” Robison said. “It's been under-reported by the people who want to defund the agencies. They tend to want to talk about the sometimes-controversial project grants. … (But) that's less work in the community, fewer programs in schools, smaller plays.”

Arts organizations also stand to lose the potential to earn project grant dollars. In the last round of NEA project grants, Playhouse, Cincinnati Ballet, Cincinnati Opera, Cincinnati Shakespeare Co., Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, the Contemporary Arts Center and Contemporary Dance Co. each received grants ranging from $10,000 to $40,000. The money will support efforts such as Project 38, Cincinnati Shakespeare's innovative education program, and new works from diverse artists. And thanks to a $35,000 NEA grant to ArtsWave, a web of arts organizations have spent the last year working with community development agencies to create programs that will improve neighborhoods across Greater Cincinnati. These sorts of grants would disappear along with the NEA.

But it's not just NEA money at stake. Trump's proposal also would eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

“The carelessness and speed of these actions is going to cost taxpayers,” said Cameron Kitchin, director of the Cincinnati Art Museum. “Every taxpayer will lose programs they care about for their children, for themselves.”

The agencies Trump's budget eliminates represent less than 1 percent of the federal budget — 0.02 percent — but the work is important to arts organizations across the country in ways many people don't realize, Kitchin said. Ending the IMLS, for example, would end a federal indemnity program that keeps artwork insurance costs low. This program is what enables museums to share work for exhibits.

Those in favor of the budget cuts have argued that philanthropy could make up the difference; however, Kintner, whose organization, ArtsWave, runs an annual fundraising campaign for the arts, is skeptical. Most arts organizations already rely on a mix of philanthropy and local, state or federal grants to cover half or more of their budget, Kintner said. Meanwhile, Trump's budget cuts not just arts and humanities funding, but also money for community jobs and schools programs.

“Philanthropists would have to make even tougher choices in their giving,” Kintner.

Trump's proposal is just that — a proposal, which might not come to fruition. Gov. John Kasich has supported full state funding for the Ohio Arts Council, and more than 60 percent of people say the arts provide meaning to their life, according to a new poll from American for the Arts.

“But the fact that this is a signal of intent and priorities makes us very concerned,” Kintner said.

ArtsWave is in the middle of its annual fundraising drive — aiming to raise $12.6 million to support more than 100 arts organizations across Greater Cincinnati. As Kintner talks with people in the community, she and other arts leaders are encouraging them to contact elected officials and ask them to continue funding for the NEA and other public services.

The arts leaders are wary but hopeful.

“We'll survive, I suppose,” said Cincinnati Ballet artistic director Victoria Morgan. “But it makes a statement that it's OK to live without this kind of richness in life, to live without art. That's the worst part.”