Detroit’s art and culture programs at risk under Trump - The South End: Arts & Entertainment

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“If funding were cut, it would mean less literature and reading programs, fewer cultural programs, less classroom enrichment and decreases in history project and museum displays in every community.”

Detroit’s art and culture programs at risk under Trump

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Posted: Monday, March 20, 2017 8:00 am

Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump stood before a crowd in North Dakota on May 26, 2016, and proclaimed: “I will give you everything.”

Arts and culture programs not included.

Wayne State, a community situated in the heart of midtown Detroit with a thriving arts and culture scene, is home to an array of museums, theaters, galleries and institutions facing the prospect of losing federal funding and support come the start of a new fiscal year on Oct. 1.

Today, Trump’s plan cuts $54 billion from the budget for 2018, increases defense spending from $551 billion to $603 billion and decreases non-defense discretionary expenses from $519 billion to $462 billion–specifically targeting “low priority programs and most federal agencies.”

This move will mean complete privatization of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the elimination of both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, according to The Hill, who broke the story.

These organizations play a huge role in supporting arts and culture programs in communities across the nation, and in total, their cost makes up about 0.02 percent of federal spending.

However, the potential loss of these federal programs would mean substantial changes for arts programs in Detroit.

Executive Director of the Michigan Humanities Council Shelly Kasprzycki says they receive up to $1.2 million annually to administer funding for humanities programs across the state. From literacy enrichment and Poetry Out Loud events to grants and Museum on Main Street, they are one of the many institutions who would face setbacks with Trump’s plan.

“Michigan Humanities Council strives to provide quality cultural programs to all Michigan citizens,” she says. “If funding were cut, it would mean less literature and reading programs, fewer cultural programs, less classroom enrichment and decreases in history project and museum displays in every community.”

In the event cuts are made, Kasprzycki says the MHC will be seeking additional support from foundations and donors in order to diversify their funding streams.

However, until the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Federation of State Humanities Councils start collectively advocating for funding stability, Kasprzycki says the MHC is taking a neutral approach to the looming cuts.

“In the meantime, we share the wonderful work culture programs are carrying out through the Council around the state every day,” she says.

Widening the scope, Living Arts Detroit is a local nonprofit which has been working to empower and engage youth through the humanities since 1999.

Expected funding slashes will be a substantial setback for the Southwest Detroit-based organization whose focus is to promote everything from dance performances to making reading more accessible for children in schools without those programs.

Executive Director Alissa Novoselick says Living Arts Detroit has used federal funds delivered via grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs and the Social Innovation Fund for the Corporation for National and Community Service, all of which are on the chopping block, to help more than 3,200 children in Detroit gain access to art instruction no longer offered in Detroit schools.

“Federal funding enables Living Arts to offer out services to schools, Head Start centers and individual families at highly subsidized rates,” she says. “A reduction or elimination of federal funding would mean schools and families would have to pay full cost of these programs, which would put them out of reach for most. Or, Living Arts would have to reduce the number of staff and teaching artists we would employ to deliver programs, which would greatly decrease the number of youth we are able to impact.”

In response to Trump’s plan, humanities focused nonprofits are gearing up to survive with either substantially less or nonexistent federal funds.

Novoselick says they are currently taking the same approach as the MHC in terms of preparing for the possibility of Trump’s budget cuts: expanding and diversifying their base of support.

By looking for creative ways to boost their revenue, maintaining and creating relationships with donors and working to attract corporate partnerships they hope to be able to provide the same community support.

Both Kasprzycki and Novoselick say constituents can best help support arts and culture programs by communicating concerns with their local and state legislators and letting them know why they value these institutions. Donating to specific organizations and humanities advocacy groups goes a long way as well.

For WSU’s community in particular, both students and heads of arts and cultural institutions say these losses would certainly be felt throughout the area.

Emily Borden, a senior studying graphic design and fine art painting, says losing funding for the arts is upsetting, because the arts and culture programs in her community have nurtured her and many other individuals over the years.

“I have worked with many people in the community who have been very generous in teaching skills such as screen-printing, drawing, painting and investing in me as a person,” she says. “In terms of cultural programs, those are integral for a lot of people to have equitable opportunities and to be able to succeed in environments that don't necessarily cater to everyone's needs. Especially in a place like Detroit, this is important.”

Borden says arts and culture programs are integral to personal development and reflection.

“With everything going on, we need more creativity and artistic expression than ever. The budget cuts are devastating,” she says. “You lose workflow without the arts. You lose people's attention and motivation. Seeing art, making art, having art in our curriculum and our communities is inspiring to people. It allows them to express themselves and grow in self-awareness. It helps us take care of ourselves.”

Nevertheless, Borden says she has faith in the resilience of the humanities and believes they will move forward regardless of budget cuts.

“What I love about artists is that through thick and thin, with funds or without, they find a way to make their work and put it into the world,” she says.  

Margaret Nelson is a senior fine arts major with a concentration in painting who loves going to local galleries, shows and theater. She says she expects a decline in the spirit of Detroit if the Trump administration cuts federal funding for the arts.

“Art is a part of the spirit of any city. To try to diminish that spirit goes against the growth of the city as a whole,” Nelson says. “I am at my happiest when I am painting or sculpting or trying something new. To think that in younger generations there may be even one person who may love doing these things as well, but will never discover that because art classes seemed unimportant due to lack of funding or time or discouragement, is upsetting.”

Looking forward, Nelson says the long term consequences of choosing to allocate funding away from the arts will be detrimental to society.

“There will be people who struggle with who they are and do not know of an artistic outlet to help them communicate with others in a way words cannot,” she says. “There will be talented young students who go undiscovered and withhold their art, music compositions, films, etc. from the world. Without proper programs for students, the future looks like a bleak time to me.”

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