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GUEST COLUMN: Don't discount the powerful impact of arts and culture

By: Andy Vick
May 17, 2017 Updated: May 19, 2017 at 8:01 am
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As the executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region (COPPeR), our community's designated local arts agency, I see firsthand every day the powerful and positive impact that arts and culture are having locally on education, economic development, tourism and quality of life.

Communities across America have a stake in the arts, including our own.

According to Americans for the Arts, 4.8 million Americans work in arts and culture industries. Additionally, the arts generate $22.3 billion in federal, state, and local government revenue.

The major driver of arts initiatives across the country is the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts.

I want to make sure that Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Gardner know that, in Colorado, in 2016 alone, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded a total of $3,134,600 in grant money to 38 nonprofit and governmental arts organizations. These grants worked to enhance access to the arts for all, especially in under-served rural and inner-city areas.

Of this NEA funding, more than $740,000 went to Colorado Creative Industries - our state arts agency. The state then matched these federal funds and awarded grants to 241 arts organizations in 74 communities across Colorado.

The NEA's goals are fulfilled primarily through direct grants, reviewed and recommended by panels of citizen experts, to arts organizations across the country.

NEA grants provide a significant return on investment of federal dollars with $1 of NEA direct funding leveraging up to $9 in private and other public funds, resulting in $500 million in matching support in 2016.

Why? Because winning an NEA grant sends a clear message that the grantee is operating an impactful local program of top national quality. The Cultural Office was honored to receive a $10,000 NEA grant to support Arts Month 2017.

In 2016 alone, the NEA recommended more than 2,400 grants in nearly 16,000 communities in every Congressional District in the country.

What's more, 40 percent of NEA-supported activities take place in high-poverty neighborhoods. Thirty-six percent of NEA grants go to organizations that reach under-served populations such as people with disabilities, people in institutions, and veterans. The NEA has been able to do all these things and more on a meager budget of $148 million.

President Donald Trump's proposed budget for FY 2018 calls for an elimination of the NEA, among other cultural agencies like the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Please don't believe those dusty, old arguments to eliminate these cultural agencies because it would reduce the deficit or the size of government.

We simply cannot afford to cut back on our federal investment in the arts and culture in this country. According to the latest news from U.S. Department of Commerce's Bureau of Economic Analysis, the arts and culture contribute 4.23 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product. That's $729 billion per year. It's one of the very few economic industries that yield a trade surplus of $26 billion and generate 4.8 million American jobs that cannot be outsourced out of the country.

Can we really afford to lose the profound impact of the NEA in our state, community, and schools?

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Andy Vick is the executive director of the Cultural Office of the Pikes Peak Region, a nonprofit arts organization located in downtown Colorado Springs.

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