Many of the University’s arts programs are supported by a government subsidiary known as the National Endowment for the Arts.
Mitt Romney, Republican presidential candidate, said he would “eliminate” public funding to the National Endowment of the Arts if he is elected, according to the latest issue of Fortune Magazine. The endowment received $146.2 million from the federal government in 2012 that, according to the endowment’s website, was spread out to more than 100,000 not-for-profit arts and cultural organizations. Romney said though he “appreciates” organizations like the NEA, he said he believes “they have to stand on their own.”
Some members of University arts communities believe the National Endowment for the Arts is an essential resource.
“Private funding is important, but governmental funding is also important,” said Lisa Fusillo, dance department head and professor. “The two go hand-in-hand.”
Fusillo has received two direct NEA grants and one through an organization sponsored by the NEA to bring visiting dance companies to the University.
The two direct NEA grants allowed the department to bring in professional companies to work with students, she said.
“Students of the University of Georgia were directly able to have this experience with professional companies, working with them in classes, working in the rehearsals and then performing onstage with the professional artists, which is extraordinary,” she said. “Normally, you have to be either an apprentice with the company or accepted into the company to be performing on the stage with a professional company, so that these companies that allow the opportunity for students to work with them and train with them gives students a sense of what their professional lives are going to be like.”
This is not an opportunity that would be available without the National Endowment for the Arts, she said.
“The cost of bringing in a professional company, the cost of bringing in professional choreography just to set one of the professional repertory works would absolutely not be possible,” Fusillo said. “It’s beyond the capabilities of a dance program. The NEA funding is essential to that opportunity.”
Bala Sarasvati, the University’s modern dance program coordinator, is hosting the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company, for a three-day residency in October. The residency was made possible in part through a grant the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company received from the National Endowment for the Arts. Sarasvati said the NEA was vital for funding arts and cultural organizations in small towns like Athens.
“A city the size of Athens isn’t going to be able to see some of the artwork that they would see without NEA-grant funding,” she said. “A lot of the big, large money does go to the bigger cities, such as New York and Los Angeles, where art is much more vibrant, but the support trickling down to allow those companies to go beyond the big cities is really important.”
Sarasvati said it is important to fund artists in less-reached areas.
“We can’t say they all come out of the big art schools,” she said. “It doesn’t work that way. Some of our most talented artists can come from a farm in middle America," and she said over a laugh, "Athens, Georgia."
Sarasvati said some NEA-funded projects help students find jobs once they leave the University.
“Sometimes, a company comes in and sees a student, and they tell that student, ‘Hey, you ought to come to an audition,’ and it’s a real sort of matching up where they see that student has an affinity to the work that they do,” she said.
Another campus institution that annually benefits from the NEA-funded Georgia Council for the Arts is The Georgia Museum of Art, according to Hillary Brown, director of communications for the museum, though she said the museum has other funding methods as well for its general operation.
“The National Endowment for the Arts is crucial for a lot of museums. It’s very important for us," she said. "I don’t want to minimize it by any means, but it’s not the only source for our funding.”
Though she reiterated, “Fundraising is something we spend a lot of time on, and we would only have to spend more time if organizations like the National Endowment for the Arts did not exist…Everything is important.”
Specifically however, in 2010, the museum, along with Auburn University’s and the University of Oklahoma’s art museums, received a NEA grant to fund the exhibition and catalogue “Art Interrupted: Advancing American Art and the Politics of Cultural Diplomacy.” The exhibit is scheduled to begin its tour of the three universities as well as Indiana University’s art museum in September, Brown said.
“Their grant was crucial in funding that exhibition and the catalog that came out of it,” she said.
The effects of public-funding loss are already a reality for one campus arts organization.
The University’s Performing Arts Center is not receiving any support from the Georgia Council for the Arts this year for the first time in “several years” due to a change in the Georgia Council for the Arts' funding criteria, according to Bobby Tyler, marketing and media relations director for the Performing Arts Center.
Erin Tatum, the Performing Arts Center’s facilities and house manager, was identified by Tyler as the primary staff member who worked on the Georgia Council for the Arts grants prior to this year.
“Our funding from GCA has diminished significantly in the past several years concurrent with the state’s economic decline,” Tatum wrote in an email. “We have had to search out more sources of funding to balance GCA’s lessened support. Our funding is now represented mostly by private giving, sponsorships and other event-specific grant sources.”
Tatum said one benefit of the GCA grant was that it contributed “tens of thousand of dollars” during the best-funded years to the center’s operating budget and was not restricted to a specific performance.
“It would be like a student applying for a very competitive, involved scholarship and then being able to use the money to pay for school-related expenses like books or rent,” she said.
Though the lack of public funding has altered the way the center operates, Tatum said the center has survived through an increase in private donations.
“Although we were disappointed not to be funded this fiscal year,” Tatum said, “we have adapted our fundraising to compensate for the loss.”
She also said the changes perceptible to the public will be minimal.
“We do our best to maintain our quality programming despite funding changes,” she said. “The student and University population shouldn't notice a difference."
Ashley Williams, chairman of the UGA College Republicans, released her organization’s official statement about Romney’s quote via email on Monday.
“We survive on fundraising alone,” Williams said in reference to her organization. “Fundraising is not easy, but we work at it consistently and relentlessly, which allows us to grow as an organization. Other organizations should engage in such efforts to be able to stand on their own without a subsidy.”
Williams said cuts across the board were necessary since the United States has accumulated $16 trillion in debt.
“The elimination of subsidies is never easy, especially to those who have become dependent upon them,” she said, “but if we get serious about cutting the budget and the debt, we will ensure our nation's future prosperity.”
Brett Weber, the president of the Young Democrats of UGA, disagreed with Williams and said the public shouldn’t be worried about Romney’s assertion.
“Republicans have been trying to [eliminate the NEA] for 30 years, and it’s still here,” Weber said. “It’s not going anywhere.”