Where do your NEA dollars really go?
Geoff Edgers reports in the Washington Post:
Viki Graber’s sneakers slosh in the wet grass as she twists two willow branches to form an arch. This 30-foot-long tunnel, an installation and playful passageway being built in Salamonie State Park, is the National Endowment for the Arts at work in Mike Pence country. And it’s anything but an easy gig for Graber, 53, a basket weaver. She sleeps in an unheated cabin nearby — home is 90 minutes north — as she creates her work. For this, she will get $3,000.
Two hours south, in Indianapolis, NEA money is helping Big Car revive a neighborhood. The nonprofit group is converting 10 bungalows and a shuttered church — all abandoned in recent years — into artist housing. With the help of a $10,000 NEA grant, Big Car has curated a sound exhibition that’s installed in almost a dozen spaces, including a library, bookstore and botanical garden. Once blighted and barely alive, Cruft Street now thumps with activity.
Then there’s James Gladin, a machine operator lying in a hospital bed at Parkview Health in Fort Wayne. Gladin, a 53-year-old with heart issues, collapsed at work the day before. On Friday morning, artist Diane Gaby rolls up to Room 4230 with her art cart. She’s making the rounds for the hospital’s Healing Arts program. That form of therapy has been a passion for Karen Pence, the state’s former first lady and herself a painter. Now in Washington, she remains publicly silent as her husband serves an administration proposing that the NEA be eliminated.
“I doodle,” Gladin tells Gaby. “That’s about it.”
“Well, do a little doodle for me and I’ll show you what this pencil can do,” she says. “I’m not expecting the Mona Lisa.”
“You’re not getting that,” says Gladin, who manages a thin smile.
This comes at a time when the NEA, which has been threatened many times over the 52 years since President Lyndon B. Johnson signed it into law, is under attack. President Trump has proposed eliminating the agency altogether. In Indiana, artists and nonprofit leaders in small towns or underserved communities fear that lawmakers don’t understand how much they depend on the millions of arts dollars distributed each year outside booming metropolises. NEA dollars give children access to the arts at a time when schools are cutting back. They provide performances for people who don’t live in cultural centers. They keep such handmade traditions as basket-weaving and quiltmaking alive. Nowhere is this more evident than in Indiana, where a 500-mile, 36-hour tour through the state reveals what’s really at stake.
“We’re going into communities where there is so little access to the arts,” says Jon Kay, the director of Traditional Arts Indiana, which helped coordinate the NEA funding of Graber’s project. “If we lose NEA support, these traditions will be gone.”
The NEA’s budget is modest but designed to reach out to people outside big cities. The agency gives nearly $50 million of its $150 million annual budget to state arts councils so they can, in turn, distribute money to local programs and artists. Those contributions come with a built-in multiplier, as the NEA requires arts councils to match the federal government’s contributions. In addition, in fiscal 2015, the NEA awarded more than 300 grants totaling $7.7 million for projects in rural areas. . .