When a group of Nevada arts advocates went to Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago to talk up continued funding for the National Endowment of the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, they didn’t know their efforts would be successful.
President Donald Trump’s initial budget proposal would have eliminated funding for both cultural agencies.
“It’s the first time in history, since the NEA was created (in 1965) that any president has proposed to eliminate it,” notes Joe O’Neill, a senior cultural specialist for Las Vegas’ office of cultural affairs, who’s also vice chairman of the Nevada Arts Council.
But the omnibus spending bill Trump recently signed includes $152.87 million each for the NEA and NEH.
NEA distributes 40 percent of its budget to state agencies such as the Nevada Arts Council, according to O’Neill, one of eight Nevadans who traveled to Washington to meet with members of the Silver State’s congressional delegation (and/or their staffers) to “educate them on the arts and the benefit of the arts.”
From arts education to small business expansion — with Las Vegas’ downtown arts district as Exhibit A — the delegation’s “bullet points” also cited the impact of the arts on everyone from returning veterans to those impacted by gun violence, O’Neill says.
That includes the Las Vegans who built the Healing Garden in the wake of the Oct. 1 Route 91 Harvest festival massacre, notes theater director Sarah O’Connell, another Nevada delegation member and founder of the local arts website eatmoreartvegas.com.
“The arts district was a logical place to express, collectively, our community’s feelings,” O’Connell says, noting how the arts help people “dealing with grief and coping with disasters like Oct. 1.” They also foster local celebrations such as First Friday and Super Summer Theatre, activities “for the community, by the community.”
Nevada’s nonprofit arts and culture industry generated $471.7 million in economic activity statewide during the 2015 fiscal year, according to an economic impact study conducted by the arts advocacy group Americans for the Arts. That figure includes more than 10,000 full-time equivalent jobs and $36.8 million in local and state government revenues.
“For every dollar the federal government gives (the NEA), $9 is returned on that investment,” O’Neill says. “The benefit is there.”
And arts advocates, including those in Nevada, are working hard to educate the public (and their representatives) that “the arts are not just an elitist activity,” he points out. “They’re part of the fabric of the country — and the community.”