Samuel Hoi, Christopher Bedford and Julia Marciari-Alexander Urge Congress to Continue Funding Arts Programs

As seen in the Baltimore Business Journal.

As the chief executives of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Maryland Institute College of Art, and The Walters Art Museum – three anchor visual arts institutions in Baltimore – we unite to urge in the strongest possible voice that Congress continue to support funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute for Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The call for the elimination of these four cultural agencies in the proposed federal budget plan makes bad economic sense.

Take the case of the NEA as an example. It receives only a $148 million annual appropriation. Yet, the arts the agency fosters return $22.3 billion in tax revenue to federal, state, county and municipal governments, making it easier to balance our country's books.

Why take away a smart and productive investment of a mere 0.004 percent of the total federal budget that helps sustain the $730 billion arts and culture industry in United States, which represents 4.2 percent of the annual GDP?

The disappearance of CPB, NEA, NEH, and IMLS will be an irresponsible disservice to people and communities nationwide. The NEA and NEH award grants in virtually all Congressional districts, providing access to arts and humanities in rural areas and low-income communities and schools where there would be none otherwise.

While the proposed draconian cutting of cultural funding will hurt both urban and rural areas, the country's most underserved populations would suffer disproportionately.

Let's face it: No individual donors or private philanthropic forces can fulfill the national mandate of CPB, NEA, NEH, and IMLS.

The power of the four cultural agencies is rooted and connected in their missions to serve all Americans. They partner with state arts and humanities agencies to distribute funds to support a wide spectrum of initiatives. Through catalytic initiatives, strategic grants, and capacity building services, they stimulate local action and vibrancy through the lens of national strategies.

In Baltimore, the impact and influence of these agencies are palpable, vital, and critical.

An NEA "Our Town" grant made it possible for MICA to initiate the North Avenue Knowledge Exchange program. This open-access and partnership-based education platform provides opportunities for neighborhood stakeholders to learn from each other and to engage in projects that improve the community through art, design and creativity.

An NEA "Creativity Connects" grant helped MICA leverage further national funding to launch a unique, citywide initiative that offers pathways for creative individuals from all parts of Baltimore to gain entrepreneurial skills to benefit from and serve the creative economy.

Grants from the NEA, NEH and IMLS, leveraged against private, civic, and state funding, have enabled both the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Walters Art Museum to welcome the public free of a general admission charge. In addition, federal cultural funding for both museums has supported the preservation and restoration of works in their collections and has made accessible to literally thousands of visitors masterworks, such as those in the recent blockbuster show of Matisse/Diebenkorn at BMA.

Beyond the Baltimore region, millions of people globally have been able to appreciate more than 13,000 works of art free of charge, thanks to digitization projects at the Walters website funded through the NEA and NEH.

The three of us do not presume to speak on behalf of other cultural organizations in the greater Baltimore community. We are confident, however, that our beliefs expressed here will resonate with many peers, and with a public that cherishes the role that arts and culture play in our city.

In the 1990s, when the Corporation for Public Broadcasting was threatened with drastic federal funding reduction or elimination, it ran a successful publicity campaign of "If PBS doesn't do it, who will?" that helped turn the tide. A similar campaign could honestly be mounted for CPB, NEA, NEH, and IMLS today.

Truly – If CPB, NEA, NEH, and IMLS don't do it, who will?

Christopher Bedford is the director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, Samuel Hoi is the president of MICA and Julia Marciari-Alexander is the director of the Walters Museum of Art.