The United States has never had a strong tradition of government support for the arts. But we take what we can get and, since its founding in 1965, American artists have gratefully accepted whatever the National Endowment for the Arts is willing and able to give. Though the NEA has at times been aggressively politicized, for the most part, we have maintained a delicate separation of art and state.
Every year since 1985, the President of the United States has recognized our country's greatest artists with the National Medal of Arts. Many dancers and choreographers—from Martha Graham to Tommy Tune to Edward Villella—have received the award.
But President Trump has yet to award any artists (the deadline for the 2016 medals was last February, and historically the ceremony has been held later the same year). Though the White House says it will "likely" issue awards later in 2018, this is the longest gap between ceremonies since the founding of the award—and it speaks to the current administration's general disinterest in the arts.
Since taking office a year and a half ago, President Trump has held no dance performances at the White House, and aside from the military band, no performances whatsoever. He has frequently disparaged artists, from Meryl Streep to the cast of Hamilton. The fate of the National Endowment for the Arts has also come into question. If the President does indeed continue with the award, we wonder how his attitude toward artists will affect who is chosen—and whether artists will even accept the honor. (Carmen de Lavallade and several other Kennedy Center honorees skipped the White House reception last year to boycott the President.)
None of this will stop us from continuing to celebrate worthy dance artists—or from remembering the many dancers and choreographers who've been honored by past Presidents:
The fate of the National Endowment for the Arts has had us on tenterhooks (and off...and on again) since the election of Donald Trump. (Actually, we've been on and off tenterhooks about it more or less since it was founded.)
Regardless of where you get your news, you've probably heard about the GOP's controversial Tax Cuts and Jobs Act. Many of the conversations surrounding the bill have been centered around what it could mean for individual taxpayers.
But you may not have heard much about what the bill means for nonprofits, the institutions that make up the vast majority of the dance world—from cultural giants like New York City Ballet to dance service organizations like The Actors Fund.
As the new United States government officials settle in, the whole country has turned a watchful eye towards D.C. to see what issues will be tackled first.
The NEA is supporting ASFB's 2017 tour and outreach.
Last week The Hill published an article detailing the potential demise of the National Endowment for the Arts under Trump administration budget cuts. Unsurprisingly, it set off a flurry of worry among the arts community.
While the cause for concern is real, it is not new. The NEA has been under attack since its birth in 1965.
But the organization is far from the cutting room floor. This initial report is just that: a report. President Trump has a long, uphill climb before his budget cuts could be accepted by our Congress (although with the GOP controlling both the House and Senate, he has more of a chance to get it done).
For the 2017 fiscal year, the NEA announced over $30 million in grants will be awarded to various non-profit organizations and individuals throughout the country, with a focus on equal access to the arts. For the dance community this year, the NEA will support a national tour for Aspen Santa Fe Ballet with outreach in each community visited, The Luminoir Project by Diavolo Dance Theater and The George Balanchine Foundation video archives, to name just a few projects.
The George Balanchine Foundation video crew filming Scotch Symphony. Photo by Costas.
While NEA grants can greatly boost a company’s budget, the funds are not a sure thing to be relied upon year after year. Dance companies and freelance choreographers already have a system in place for privatized funding, should we lose the NEA fight. Individual donors are the dance field’s behind-the-scenes super heroes, and their continued patronage is what keeps the arts afloat in this country. In many cases, arts patrons not only donate money, but also volunteer their time and intellectual resources as board members, consultants or advisors. If dance no longer has government support, they will be more valuable than ever.
Perhaps a greater cause for concern is cutting arts programming in public schools and in small communities across the country. Many dance professionals supplement or make their living through teaching for NEA-supported programs. Children (and adults!) living in less affluent or rural areas may miss out on vital arts exposure if these programs lose funding.
Continue to advocate and speak out. As Dance/USA suggests, contact your congressional representative to voice your concern. Sign the petition against the NEA budget cut. But most of all, continue your art. Actions always speak louder than words, and luckily for us, dance is an action art!
The flag will never be flown half mast for the arts in this country. Not now, not ever.