Internationally acclaimed soprano Renée Fleming with Chicago High School for the Arts students at the Lyric Opera of Chicago's Chicago Voices School Slam. Fleming will be the inaugural recipient of Arts Alliance Illinois' Creative Voice Award, present to accept it at the organization's Fifth Annual Benefit Luncheon on Thursday June 8, 2017 at the Palmer House Hilton. Photo © Jaclyn Simpson

What do proposed NEA cuts mean to Chicago??

As soon as the proposed cuts to NEA were announced, text messages and phone calls started flying to leaders of artistic and cultural organizations throughout Chicago.

That was the case for Ellyzabeth Adler, Executive Director of Chicago Danztheatre Ensemble, with whom Picture this Post Editor Amy Munice was having a pre-scheduled luncheon meeting to learn more about her organization's plans in the coming year.  This was during Adler's quick break from her work at Pritzker School, where among other things, she uses dance instruction to help teach math.

Arts Alliance Illinois Explains What it Means and How to Take Action

To find out more about what these proposed budget cuts entail and how Chicago arts enthusiasts can fight these changes, Picture this Post (PTP) caught up with Zachary Whittenburg, Communications and Engagement Director at Arts Alliance Illinois.

Arts Alliance Illinois is the only statewide arts and advocacy and service organizaton promoting the value of the arts to all residents. Logo of Arts Alliance Illinois, courtesy of the organization.

PTP:  What do you think the impact of these cuts will be? Which types of organizations and arts and cultural expressions will be hurt the most?

AAI: "Grants from the NEA, which in 2016 amounted to more than $3.6 million in Illinois, are critically important to organizations of all sizes. Smaller arts organizations receiving NEA funds would be particularly vulnerable should that support disappear; although the NEA also funds neighborhood-based initiatives run by larger and more established institutions — programs which make a transformative impact in the communities they serve.

"Because of the diversity of NEA grantees and the agency's nationwide reach, defunding the agency would be felt in some way by nearly every person in Illinois, and across the country. The programs the NEA supports are found in every congressional district, in every state in the union."

PTP: Are these cuts as significant as previous ones or more so?

AAI: "The NEA has faced threats to its existence before, notably during the Reagan administration, which also sought to defund the agency when he took office in 1981. At that time, thanks in part to a special task force, the NEA's budget was then ultimately reduced by just six percent.

"The new cuts proposed are not only the most significant the NEA has seen in a generation — indeed, they pose an existential threat to the agency itself — but come in a broader context of threats to many federal agencies including Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Department of State.

"We at the Alliance are well aware of how many vital, federally funded programs are now in danger, not just the ones in arts and culture and, in turn, there are "non-arts" policies which nonetheless affect the sector directly—the ability for artists outside the U.S. to secure visas for performances here, for example, and their availability to participate in cultural exchanges.

"However, we also believe strongly that, beyond the NEA, artists and arts communities across our state are uniquely positioned to address these broader policy issues. Individual artists, creative industries, and arts-adjacent professions will in many cases be the ones who can tell us the most moving and most effective, front-line stories about healthcare, immigration, criminal justice, and the environment. The Alliance stands proud and ready to galvanize artists and arts organizations for advocacy during this key moment for our nation."

PTP:  What does the Alliance recommend people who love the arts and want our tax dollars to support cultural endeavors do about the recently announced cuts to the NEA?

AAI: "There are multiple ways in which arts advocates can stay involved during this uncertain time. Through our own advocacy portal, we are encouraging people to call their representatives in Washington by phone, first and foremost, and also send them personalized email to share stories of the impact NEA-funded programs have made in their communities.

"The NEA survives through bipartisan support and we must encourage our representatives to work with their colleagues in Congress to refuse efforts which seek to defund the agency.

"As a matter of fact, we are just days away from meetings in Washington, D.C. we have already arranged on March 20 and 21 between representatives and arts supporters from across Illinois. At 25 people, this year's team of participants in National Arts Advocacy Day is our largest-ever delegation to the event, which we steward at the state level in partnership with Americans for the Arts.

"We should also clarify that we are at the start of what could be a long process with multiple stages. Only the most basic outlines of federal budget cuts and re-allocations have been drawn at this point. As we did successfully earlier this month in support of an arts indicator for Illinois schools under the state's implementation of the federal Every Student Succeeds Act, we track closely the process of policy changes and engage with them strategically, in the most effective way possible, at each step along the way.

PTP:  Where can Picture this Post readers go for the most up-to- date information on the Alliance’s work to fight these budget cuts?

AAI: "Email is an important tool for us — we reach more than 26,000 arts-passionate people across the state using our network, and encourage everyone to sign up for free. Individuals and organizations of all sizes can also join the Alliance as a member, for as little as $25 per year.

Protecting arts and culture funding is a long-term effort, and Arts Alliance Illinois is tracking fast-moving news on a daily basis. Feel free to contact us at any time, and follow us @ArtsAllianceIL on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn. We’ll make sure you remain informed and help you make sense of the latest developments.

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