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3 Reasons To Abolish the NEA—And Why They're Wrong
The White House budget office has drawn up a preliminary list of programs it could eliminate to cut spending. And in a strike to our hearts here at Dance Magazine, it includes the National Endowment for the Arts.
This is little surprise: The NEA has been a perennial target for fiscal conservatives ever since it was launched in 1965. (Which, in perversely good news, means we already know how to put up a good fight.) But why is the NEA so often on the chopping block?
Argument: It's a Waste of Taxpayer Dollars
If the administration's truly looking to save money, slashing the NEA won't do much. As Metropolitan Museum of the Arts director Thomas P. Campbell pointed out in an op-ed in The New York Times last week, the NEA's budget is "minuscule": $148 million last year. That's 0.004 percent of the total federal budget. Also known as just 47 cents per American. Or about a third of what we spend on military bands each year.
Basically, if you're looking at the big picture, it's chump change. Yet for artists who work on a shoestring budget, it can change everything.
It's been reported that the administration is aware of how negligible the impact of cutting this funding would be, but it wants to make an example of "wastes of taxpayer money."
But dismissing the NEA as a "waste" is sorely short-sighted. Looking at it from a purely economical standpoint, the money shows an incredible return on investment. Last week, a letter written by 24 Democratic, Republican and Independent senators to the President pointed out that the arts and culture sector is a $704 billion industry, or 4.2 percent of the nation's GDP. That accounts for more than 4 million American jobs—and generates $22.3 billion in government revenue.
Axis Dance Company is funded by the NEA. Photo by Kyle Froman.
Argument: The Arts Should Be Funded by Private Donors, Not the State
In the U.S., the arts get far less government money than is typical in other countries (looking at you, Europeans). We largely rely on donors from the private sector—which makes many people believe that we should just cut out government support altogether.
But as Dance/USA reminds us, the NEA is the only organization in this country that gives money to the arts in all 50 states, bringing art to communities that might otherwise have none.
Sure, New York City will probably always have projects underwritten by private funders (we love you! and thank you!), but can the same be said out in Beattyville, Kentucky? I can't imagine David Koch underwriting ballets in rural America. And Kickstarter isn't going to be held responsible for making sure that a significant portion of its campaigns fund projects in low-income neighborhoods.
Plus, NEA funding stimulates private investments. A rare joint statement put out by all 11 Lincoln Center organizations yesterday wrote: "Because it is so successful and its imprimatur so prestigious, every dollar the NEA contributes leads to nine additional dollars being donated from other sources." Not only does the agency collaborate with private foundations, but donors notice which organizations have support from such an authoritative source.
The NEA funds Eliot Feld's tuition-free Ballet Tech school in New York City.
Argument: The Arts Can't Be a Priority When So Much Else is at Stake
This one has been discussed and dissected and debunked since before I was born. But I will add this: Right now—when everyone only reads the news that tells them what they want to hear, when it's next to impossible to have a conversation with someone who doesn't share your viewpoint—this is when we need art most of all.
Using nuance and creativity, the arts can transport us to new worlds, show us different experiences, help us understand opposing opinions, and imagine alternate possibilities.
Dances like Paul Taylor's Company B can slyly illuminate the hypocrisy of American patriotism. Others, like Merce Cunningham's Biped, can provoke questions about our own transient existence. Or they can capture the feverish energy and egalitarian ideals of a generation, like Justin Peck's Everywhere We Go.
Yes, all three of those dances were funded in part by the NEA. And I, for one, don't want to imagine a world without them.
Rebecca Warthen was on a year-long assignment with the Peace Corps in Dominica last fall when a storm started brewing. A former dancer with North Carolina Dance Theatre (now Charlotte Ballet) and Columbia City Ballet, she'd been sent to the Caribbean island nation to teach ballet at the Dominica Institute of the Arts and in outreach classes at public schools.
But nine and a half months into her assignment, a tropical storm grew into what would become Hurricane Maria—the worst national disaster in Dominica's history.
On the occasion of its 70th anniversary, the Ballet Nacional de Cuba tours the U.S. this spring with the resolute Cuban prima ballerina assoluta Alicia Alonso a the helm. Named a National Hero of Labor in Cuba, Alonso, 97, has weathered strained international relations and devastating fiscal challenges to have BNC emerge as a world-class dance company. Her dancers are some of ballet's best. On offer this time are Alonso's Giselle and Don Quixote. The profoundly Cuban company performs in Chicago May 18–20, Tampa May 23, Washington, D.C., May 29–June 3 and Saratoga, New York June 6–8.
Ever wonder why some dancers' port de bras appears to be disconnected from their body? It typically comes down to how they stabilize their shoulder blades, says Marimba Gold-Watts, Pilates instructor to dancers like Robert Fairchild.
"Dancers often hear the cue to pull down on their latissimus,"—the biggest muscle in the back—"which doesn't allow the shoulder blades to lie flat," she says. "It makes the bottom tips of the shoulder blades wing, or flare out, off the rib cage."
Sidra Bell is one of those choreographers whose movement dancers are drawn to. Exploring the juxtaposition of fierce athleticism and pure honesty in something as simple as stillness, her work brings her dancers to the depths of their abilities and the audience to the edge of their seats.
A few weeks ago, American Ballet Theatre announced the A.B.T. Women's Movement, a new program that will support three women choreographers per season, one of whom will make work on the main company.
"The ABT Women's Movement takes inspiration from the groundbreaking female choreographers who have left a lasting impact on ABT's legacy, including Agnes de Mille and Twyla Tharp," said artistic director Kevin McKenzie in a press release.
Hypothetically, this is a great idea. We're all for more ballet commissions for women. But the way ABT has promoted the initiative is problematic.
Some dancers move to New York City with their sights set on a dream job: that one choreographer or company they have to dance for. But when Maggie Cloud graduated from Florida State University in 2010, she envisioned herself on a less straightforward path.
"I always had in mind that I would be dancing for different people," she says. "I knew I had some kind of range that I wanted to tap into."
New York City Ballet is celebrating the Jerome Robbins Centennial with twenty (20!) ballets. The great American choreographer died in 1998, so very few of today's dancers have actually worked with him. There are plenty of stories about how demanding (at times brutally so) he could be in rehearsal. But Peter Boal has written about Robbins in a more balanced, loving way. In this post he writes about how Robbins' crystal clear imagery helped him approach a role with clarity and purpose.
Who says you need fancy equipment to make a festival-worthy dance film? Right now, two New York City–based dance film festivals are calling for aspiring filmmakers to show their stuff—and you don't need anything more cumbersome than a smartphone to get in on the action.
Here's everything you need to know about how to submit:
When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.