In face of Trump plan for funding cuts, Philly region launches activism for art's sake
Leaders of Philadelphia business and cultural organizations joined with elected officials Thursday to oppose President Donald Trump's plan to eliminate national arts and heritage agencies.
About 250 people packed into the museum of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts — including representatives of the Philadelphia Art Museum, the Barnes Foundation, the Brandywine Museum, Philadelphia Theater Company, and the who's-who of the regional arts community.
John Orr, executive director of Art Reach, reminded the assembly that they are not the ones who stand to lose if the National Endowment for the Arts is eliminated.
"We know through data that 40 percent of NEA-supported activities take place in high-poverty neighborhoods," said Orr. "Twenty-five percent of NEA block grants take place in rural communities, and over 54 percent of programming support goes to low-income areas."
Trump's budget plan calls for eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute for Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
All four agencies, collectively, use just under a billion dollars annually, or a fraction of 1 percent of the national budget.
Part of arts advocacy is a numbers game, and research by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance shows that every federal $1 granted to this region's art sector attracts between $5 and $9 in additional, matching funds. That's how $23.7 million in federal grants over the last five years has been leveraged into the region's $3.3 billion arts sector.
City Councilman Al Taubenberger, a Republican, said the tax revenue from the region's arts sector exceeds that from the city's professional sports teams, while also providing constructive education and activity for Philadelphia's youth.
"Personally, given the choice between a Phillies came and an art museum, I'm going to take the Phillies game," said Taubenberger. "However, my passion, my political push, every strength I can muster as a human being, will be dedicated to saving funding for the arts."
Aside from the numbers, state Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, defended the arts as a national necessity.
"The arts allows us to come together and see and connect with our humanity. And don't we need this now more than ever?" Hughes said. "With all of the divide, all the hatred, all the anger, we need more of this, not less."
The organizers of the rally encouraged Philadelphia's arts sector to become activists, under the hashtag Save The Arts.
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