Arts and culturals brace for possible cuts

Feb 27, 2017

The local arts and culture community is preparing for cuts in federal funding. The White House Office of Management and Budget has suggested eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities among others.


The region's cultural nonprofits are represented by the Arts Services Initiative of Western New York. Its executive director, Tod Kniazuk says, eliminating the NEA and NEH is not going to save money.    
     
"If we're talking about trying to cut spending, we're talking, point zero, zero, three percent of the federal budget. That's what the NEA is. It's forty-six-cents, per-capita, per-year," Kniazuk said.
 
While nothing's official yet, Kniazuk says, arts and culturals should be preparing, just in case. Last year, he says, the NEA awarded about $150,000 in direct grants to local groups and initiatives.
    
"We're not just talking about someone seeing a play. We're talking about people returning from active-duty service, and dealing with what they saw overseas through art therapy. We're talking about arts access for some of our poorest and most remotely located folks in the community. That's what's at stake here. So when they paint the picture of the rich old person going to Carnegie Hall, that's really not what we're talking about here," Kniazuk said.

Arts Services Initiative of WNY, executive director Tod Kniazuk
Credit Chris Caya WBFO News

Across the region, Kniazuk says, nonprofit arts and culturals provide 2,900 full-time equivalent jobs, and generate nearly $88 million in economic activity, including $4.3 million in government revenue and taxes.
    
"Even though we're tax exempt our audiences aren't. And so when someone comes to an arts organization and buys a CD, or buys a T-shirt, or buys a cup of beer at a festival, they're paying sales tax on that. We're collecting it and giving it back to the government," Kniazuk said.  

Arts and culturals also play an important role in attracting new workers and businesses to the area.
    
"Of course it's about the incentive package and such. But to get them to come here, and especially to get them to stay here, it's about what the community offers. And so they're being taken to the Albright-Knox, they're being taken to the BPO, they're being taken to the Music is Art Festival. Because the more someone's involved in the community, whether they're a season ticket holder somewhere, serving on a board, the more likely they are to stay. The harder it is to leave," Kniazuk said.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities were established in 1965, by President Lyndon Johnson, a Texas Democrat. But Kniazuk says, some the organization's biggest increases came under Republican administrations.    
    
"So this is not a partisan issue. But for a proposal to just eliminate the entirety of the department. To just basically say, 'the arts have no place in the federal government profile.' That's extreme. That's ridiculous. And that's what we're really worried about more so than even the funding level," Kniazuk said.

So far, an online petition urging President Trump to support the Arts in America has garnered more than 31,000 signatures.