Just a year ago, 14-year-old Janasia Johnson had very few aspirations in life. Dealing with the harsh reality of a mom behind bars while growing up in a community with limited resources, the idea of a better life seemed far from sight.
But that changed after she was selected to form part of the youth development and dance program of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County — AileyCamp Miami. Janasia found her voice and strength during that summer camp, and because of that transformation she was chosen to represent and accept AileyCamp’s National Arts & Humanities Youth Program Award, the nation’s highest honor for youth programs.
Opportunities like this are rare for children in underserved communities where day-to-day challenges take priority over pursuing their passions. However, this is exactly why the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) exists — to level the playing field and give children from all walks of life and all socioeconomic backgrounds the opportunity to experience performing arts firsthand, giving the ambitious and the artistic an equal shot at going after their dream. We as taxpayers each contribute just 46 cents to the NEA to make those dreams a reality — less than the cost of a stamp.
Unfortunately, federal funding for the NEA is once again at risk. Not all children are as fortunate as Janasia to have been given the opportunity to attend a performing arts camp and represent it at the White House. Without these arts education programs designed to include underserved areas of a community, thousands of children each year lose the opportunity to experience the arts, which for many could trigger a lifelong love of the arts and, for some, a career bringing the arts to the next generation of children like themselves.
The New York Times piece “The Folly of Abandoning the N.E.A.” points out that grants go to all 50 states and support the arts in many different areas, both urban and rural, rich and poor. In addition, a grant from the NEA gives arts organizations and innovative programs a level of legitimacy that is often leveraged as as a springboard for numerous other donations from private sources.
Miami is an example of a community that embraces the arts. Miami’s rich and diverse population creates a unique ecosystem where many different cultures converge to create art and birth essential institutions. In fact, with the opening of The Perez Art Museum Miami (PAMM) and the upcoming opening of the Phillip and Patricia Frost Museum of Science, among others, arts and culture have become a major economic driver. Non-profit arts and cultural organizations have generated almost $1.1 billion in economic activity and helped employ more than 30,000 workers in Miami-Dade County.
No one can deny that South Florida is now a global destination for arts and cultural experiences, continuing to enrich the lives of residents and the numerous visitors to our region year-round. So, losing the NEA support could have devastating consequences for us in the years ahead, removing an important catalyst for economic growth and development.
To put the NEA budget cuts into perspective, the program’s overall budget is $148 million, which represents 0.00003% of the total federal budget — a drop in the bucket. At the same time, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that arts and cultural production contribute more than $704 billion to the U.S. Economy — percentage-wise, accounting for more of the U.S. GDP than mining and transportation.
It’s time for all of us to act — regardless of your political affiliation. This isn’t about aligning with a political party, it’s about protecting your community. Speak up and declare to the federal government how you want your 46¢ spent. I urge you to send a letter and sign the petition at artsactionfund.org. Don’t stand on the sidelines and hope for the best. The National Endowment for the Arts remains essential to our quality of life, economic growth and future. It must not be abandoned.
John Richard is CEO and president of the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts of Miami-Dade County.