Pittsburgh Arts Advocates Challenge NEA Defunding In Washington, D.C.

Mar 21, 2017

A delegation of 20 Pittsburgh-area artists and arts advocates spent Monday and Tuesday in Washington, D.C. for the annual Arts Advocacy Day. For the last 30 years, advocates from across the country have met at the nation’s capital to lobby for the arts. But this year, participants said there’s a more at stake.

One of the major areas of focus is President Donald Trump’s proposal to de-fund the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities, known as the NEA and NEH. Mitch Swain, CEO of the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and others met with 18 of the state’s federal elected officials, including Democratic Sen. Bob Casey and Republican Sen. Pat Toomey.

Swain said the arts have always had bipartisan support.

“We’re confident that the people that have supported us in the past will support us in the future,” Swain said. “So we’re very hopeful that the recommendations that came out of President Trump’s budget will be some ideology, but not reality.”

On Monday, participants listened to speakers like Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, and participated in professional development. Tuesday offered one-on-one meetings with lawmakers and NEA funding wasn’t the only issue on the docket. Swain said many had other concerns, including possible changes to charitable giving.

“There are some discussions about maybe changing the tax code so there are less incentives to making charitable contributions to an arts and culture organization or a non-profit organization in general,” Swain said. “We’re hoping that isn’t the case.”

In addition to federal and foundation funding, Swain said many arts organizations rely on individual gifts, which are currently tax deductible. Other issues included net neutrality, as well as immigration and visa requirements because many foreign artists travel to and from the U.S.

Overall, Swain said federal funding remains a critical piece of the financial pie for the arts. He said without it, independent artists would lose out on grants, large-scale projects may not get off the ground, such as an accessibility overhaul at arts institutions across Pittsburgh that he said wouldn’t have happened without federal dollars. Plus, he said, it’s just a good investment.

“We return local and state taxes about $474 million a year,” Swain said. “We support 20,000 full-time equivalent jobs in the Pittsburgh area, $410 million in household income.”

Organizers said roughly 700 arts advocates from around the U.S. participated in Arts Advocacy Day, the highest number ever.