Berkshire Arts, Research Take Hits in White House Budget
LENOX, Mass. — Proposed cuts in President Donald Trump's fiscal 2018 spending plan would create serious problems for the creative economy.
"The real travesty is this is actually taking money out of the pockets of people who are trying to keep food on their table while teaching kids," Shakespeare & Company Artistic Director Allyn Burrows said this week.
"[Lawmakers in Washington, D.C.] may not feel their personal connection with the arts, but their kids do. This is all part of that fabric. It's doing the next generation a disservice to yank that."
"That" would be the National Endowment for the Arts, one of the federal programs that would come under the ax if Congress follows the new president's lead on fiscal priorities.
Federal spending on the arts and the sciences each would take a hit in the White House's proposal. And that would have ramifications locally, whether it's federally funded research at institutions of higher learning or arts programs at museums and theater companies that are the backbone of the region's tourist trade.
From Stockbridge's Norman Rockwell Museum to Williamstown's Clark Art Institute to North Adams' Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, area museums routinely use NEA grants to support special exhibitions and programs.
At Burrows' Shakespeare & Company, the federal grants routinely support two of the pillars of the festival's education programs: the Northeast Regional Tour that brings Shakespeare's words to students throughout the region and the Fall Festival of Shakespeare that is one of the highlights of the year for Berkshire County public schools.
Altogether, the Lenox venue receives about $50,000 per year from the NEA.
"That's a sizable chunk of our education budget," Burrows said. "It's a major hit. I'm really left somewhat speechless by this imperative to go after educational and cultural institutions.
"They can say, 'It's not that much [money] anyway. You can raise it elsewhere.' For us, exponentially, it's an important part of our programming. … We might be able to make up the money elsewhere, but then energy has to be devoted to making up that money when we already are dedicating energy to raising other money."
And if the admittedly small ($148 million in FY17) NEA budget is eliminated, as Trump's budget would do, then cultural institutions across the country will be scrambling to fill in funding gaps with money from a limited pool of private foundations. In other words, "raising it elsewhere," will be even more difficult in a new funding environment.
At Williams College, the loss of federal research money might not be a "major hit," but the impact would be noticeable.
"Our faculty do apply for federal grants — the National Science Foundation, NASA, the National Institutes of Health," Williams Associate Provost Chris Winters said. "Any contraction in the grant-making ability of those departments would have some effect on the probability of getting those awards."
According to an analysis from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Trump's budget proposal would cut nearly $6 billion from the $31.7 billion NIH budget and would eliminate the entire Advanced Research Projects Agency at the U.S. Department of Energy.
Williams researchers currently have three NIH grants and 21 through the National Science Foundation, including subcontracts with other institutions, Winters reported.
Trump's proposal for the NSF is unknown, according to an article published on AAAS' website, Sciencemag.org.
"NSF is not mentioned in the 62-page document, so it's impossible to know what the new president thinks about its broad $7.5 billion portfolio of research and education," the magazine writes. "Presumably, the agency is one component of a single line labeled 'other agencies' that is scheduled for a 10 percent cut.
"NSF's support for the social sciences and its environmental and climate programs have been the target of congressional Republicans. But despite deep cuts in these areas at other agencies, NSF's activities so far have been spared. So is silence golden? NSF officials may not know the answer until Trump submits his full 2018 budget request to Congress in May."
Winters points out that Williams is not a major research institution, so the impact of federal cuts may be less severe than at, say, Massachusetts Institute of Technology or the University of Michigan. On the other hand, the school's $204 million science center project is a testament to the growing importance of hard sciences at the liberal arts college.
And a modest grant can go a long way.
"Let's say there's a $300,000 grant," Winters said. "That could cover the expense of a lab for three to five years, including hiring students as summer employees. The cost of not winning an award you would have won in a different fiscal environment is the support of that laboratory.
"We're lucky to provide a lot of those opportunities through institutional resources, but, obviously, every time we can offer that opportunity to someone through [a grant], it's one more time we can offer it through those institutional sources."
In the arts, the consequences of gutting federal programs could be severe.
"The arts are actually a huge part of our economy in the Berkshires and a substantial part of our organization," said Jonathan Butler, the president of Pittsfield's 1Berkshire. "The culturals depend on the money that flows from the federal and state levels, and [those cultural institutions] are the backbone of our economy because of tourism.
"An organization like the NEA or any other national organization that's under pressure now is very important to those institutions in the Berkshires. … I'm hoping the congressional leadership will see that."
A 2015 report by Williams College's C3D center found arts and cultural nonprofits employed nearly 3,000 people, had an economic impact of $163 million annually and attracted some 1 million visitors a year.
U.S. Sen. Edward Markey was proactive this week with the release of a report titled, "Massachusetts Last: Impacts of the Trump Budget on the Commonwealth." In it, he cites a $463 million loss statewide in NIH funding and a $3.5 million loss in NEA grants.
"In Massachusetts, we produce more federal revenue than we receive," Markey writes. "Yet our innovative businesses, universities, institutions, and non-profits are some of the most successful in the nation because they fight for, and win, competitive federal funding opportunities."
Of course, if Markey and the Democrats still were in control on Capitol Hill, Trump's budget proposal would have been dead on arrival. As it happens, the same November election that sent Trump to the White House also gave both houses of the Congress to the GOP, which long has had programs like the NEA in its cross-hairs.
Butler recognized that the support of Berkshire County's representatives in Congress only goes so far.
"I think Rep. [Richard] Neal and Sens. Markey and [Elizabeth] Warren have demonstrated that the arts and that component of our economy is something they feel strongly about," he said. "I think I can speak for the cultural leadership throughout the Berkshires when I say we'd like to see that kind of leadership from the whole nation."
Burrows recently was at a conference of Shakespearean theater associations in Baltimore, Md., where the group drafted a letter to Washington opposing the idea of gutting the NEA.
Whether it is keeping Shakespeare alive and relevant for a 21st-century audience or fostering new playwrights through federal grants, the relatively small piece of the federal budget is a necessary investment, Burrows said.
"Take the numbers out, and it's simple things: Is thought important? Is how we talk about things and think about things important?" Burrows said. "It's an understanding of what lies beyond the physical understanding of the Earth that makes people tough. … It's infuriating that in this country, consistently and, now, particularly, there's such a lack of understanding for that.
"A lot of these folks rationale [for cutting the NEA] is, 'What do you need to write plays for?' It's really hard to answer that. They don't realize how much culture they're exposed to until it's gone."
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