Tag Archives: historic preservation

Budget Cuts: A Look Forward at Arts, Culture, and Public Funding

We have two choices (not necessarily exclusive) in facing the federal and states’ budget prognosis for arts, culture, museums, heritage, humanities, historic preservation, cultural resources and allied causes that range from public broadcasting to education to job corps. 1) We can write and call our legislators and do the best job of advocacy the field has ever demonstrated. 2) We can lay the groundwork for the future infrastructure of what I call the creative-cultural sector.

We must do both. We can no longer afford to just advocate. But when we do advocate, it has to be around a much larger cause. (More on that, below.)

There are two strategies required to lay the groundwork for a new future. We need to act on both. 1) We must become a unified sector. 2) We need to propose and advocate for an entirely new, unified funding approach that advances the entire sector as fundamentally valued by our economy and society.

To be a unified sector, we have to really and truly get past the distrust and the sometime-backstabbing that has kept this from happening over and over. The for-profit creative sector has to embrace the nonprofit sector and be in, one for all and all for one, and the non-profits have to sit by side with profitable and unruly creatives whose needs and priorities may be at odds with their own. On the nonprofit site, the historic preservation and heritage folks and the arts, museums, and humanities folks all have to look each other in the eye and pledge – and demonstrate – solidarity. No end runs. No peeling off to find safe havens elsewhere.

Then, we need to put forward radical, energizing ideas on how to reshape our creative-cultural funding infrastructure. The Department of Transportation has recently put forward a streamlining of 55 different programs into 5. We’re the creative thinkers: can’t we put forward a model that re-engineers our creative-cultural sectors’ funding in a similarly bold way? Why not go to Washington with a new approach in hand?

Now, on advocacy. It made me pause when I heard this week that the White House has proposed that arts and history be joined together in something called “Effective Teaching and Learning for Well Rounded Education.” Most people in our field have an immediate and angry response to this, feeling it prospectively marginalizes both arts and history in learning and in our society’s related view of their importance. It may be a semantics thing, even a small signal. But it may also point to the alliance we must form between arts, history, culture and heritage to preserve their importance in education and to preserve their value with the public at large.

Where will the leadership come for this to happen? The creative-cultural sector’s current splinters each have their own leadership and structures. It doesn’t seem like there is a lot of trust or common cause between them. Many leaders and agencies around the country are also (perhaps wisely) sitting as far below the radar as they can, hoping to go unnoticed in the current and projected budgetary mess. Perhaps this is a time for some of America’s leading foundations and private sector leaders to join together in a pledge to build a new creative-cultural infrastructure keyed to our 21st century, and then to bring their recommendations to the White House.

Where ever you are, we need you.

Cultural Funding in America: All for One, or Splintered Forever?

On March 4, 2011, the federal government will shut down unless the continuing resolution to fund the balance of this current fiscal year (which started October 1) is passed by Congress. This leaves three weeks before virtually every penny of federal funding for our American culture could well end. Today a whole new round of cuts were recommended by the House Republicans as they respond to pressure from their constituencies to go far beyond their earlier cuts. Those original cut recommendations would have peeled back about $12 million, combined, from the $146 million to the NEA and NEH that haven’t yet been spent this year. Forget that modest approach.

Today’s recommendations include the following immediate agency eliminations that would be effective March 4 for the balance of this fiscal year:

Eliminate NEH to save $71 million.
Eliminate NEA to save $76 million.
Eliminate IMLS to save $147 million.
Make the public pay to get into the Smithsonian, to save $254 million.
Eliminate the Advisory Committee on Historic Preservation to save $3 million.
Eliminate the Committee on Fine Arts to save $6 million.
Eliminate the Department of State Cultural Exchange/Education Program to save $363 million.

Plus, as the House Republicans have already recommended:

Eliminate $51 million out of the National Park Service (this would end Save America’s Treasures, Preserve America and National Heritage Areas).
Eliminate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

And, don’t forget that other cuts – such as the proposed elimination of the Economic Development Administration, Community Development Block Grants and more – will also have impact on cultural infrastructure. And that, needless to say, without Federal matching funds few states will find it necessary to maintain their own public matching dollars for arts, heritage, history, museums, etc.

No doubt that you have and will be getting emails and calls to action about this. But probably those calls are piecemeal, asking you for you to advocate for one or another of these line items while ignoring the whole, and that’s the problem. We a splintered sector that has never to date united around the concept of our culture, and now each splinter may be too small and too isolated from its compatriots to build a coalition to save federal support for any of the splinters.

We have a few weeks to save the half century-plus of infrastructure that modest as it may be demonstrates our public commitment to the breadth and majesty of our American culture, our shared story. If we stand splintered now, we may never get a chance to regroup. If we think that saving orchestras or contemporary dance is more important or that saving library funding and museum funding matters more than poetry, or that history and heritage and historic architecture should out trump theatre…well, how will it end? And even, let’s pray, that some of the splinters retain a bit for the balance of this year. How will we keep the whole of culture alive in federal funding next year?

America’s Treasures Need You, Now!

Interest in America’s historic buildings, places, streets and landmarks has dwindled for years. Many say that after the Bicentennial high point of national pride in Revolutionary War-period America, it has been one long downhill for American history.

Nothing could more unfortunately symbolize our nation’s declining value for America’s heritage and historic sites than the President’s proposed Federal Budget for 2011. As a part of the President’s cost savings for the domestic budget, he has proposed completely eliminating funding for Save America’s Treasures and its related educational and outreach program, Preserve America. He stated in so doing that the programs “weren’t working well.” The White House officially said that the programs lack performance metrics so their outcomes are not clear.

The last time America’s history and historic preservation was so threatened at the Federal level was in the early 1980s.

Why should you care?

How about the American Flag, the one tattered and torn that flew through the night and inspired our National Anthem? It was saved by Save America’s Treasures.

How about Ellis Island? Saved, after long dismal years of neglect, by Save America’s Treasures.

How about Valley Forge? The lessons in courage in the founding of America. Saved, by Save America’s Treasures.

How about Cannery Row of John Steinbeck’s vivid telling? Saved, by Save America’s Treasures.

How about those Main Street projects that have transformed small town America? Saved, by Save America’s Treasures.

How about the list of the most threatened sites in America?

The unique and nearly lost ironwork of Galveston Island. Frank Lloyd Wright’s masterpiece Unity Temple, falling apart from decay and lack of funding. They’re just a few of the most threatened of 2009. A few more years’ decay and they will truly be history. Knocked out of a chance for Federal funding to spur a match, their chances for survival are vastly diminished, and will no doubt cost a great deal more to restore in future decades.

As for the idea that Save America’s Treasures and Preserve America are not “working well?” Every Save America’s Treasures project requires a FULL match in non-Federal dollars. The Preserve America communities that get a nod of recognition usually go on to build a vibrant new economic base through their realized historic revivals. By any measure, it would be beyond comprehension to say that these don’t work well.

Did the two programs actually do enough to count, some might ask? To date, they have been directly responsible for saving 1200 of America’s treasures in all 50 states.

Do these programs hurt America’s tax payers? Never have. They were to be funded in perpetuity by a percent of the revenues of offshore oil and gas leases on the Outer Continental Shelf. But this is to be robbed by the proposed White House budget bill, to be used for other purposes other than the intended and federally mandated “preservation of ecosystems, buildings, collections and objects” that have national significance.

The proposed cuts will also dramatically impact our country’s National Heritage Area funding: the President has proposed a 50% cut. What are National Heritage Areas? A program of the National Park Service, National Heritage Areas are those that tell the vital stories of America, places like Buffalo’s Erie Canal National Heritage Corridor, or the Yuma Crossing of the Colorado River, a gathering place for over 500 years, (and now, an important wetlands restoration project. The Hudson River Heritage Corridor, the historic whaling port of New Bedford, and the Northern Rio Grande were all vitally helped toward restoration and preservation through the NHA funds.

America has long been described a country that doesn’t value its art. Now, it appears we have come one step closer to being a country that also doesn’t value our history and the heritage of our land.

Can we afford to let this happen?