I just heard Representative David Dreier, Republican of California and Ranking Member of the House Rules Committee, say that the $50 Million in the Stimulus Bill allotted to the National Endowment for the Arts was “not stimulative.”
I have to take issue here, and, as an example, I will point to my little village of Shepherdstown, West Virginia (at the last census with a population of 800). We’re about an hour and a half from Washington DC or an hour from Baltimore, and our local Shepherd University is the home of a wonderful arts event, The Contemporary American Theater Festival (CATF) which will enter its nineteenth season this year.
In 2006, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded CATF with a $17,000 grant “to support the creation, development, and production of Jazzland, by Keith Glover. The play tells the story of a gifted musician involved in an accident who strives to regain his skills and memory. The development phase will include staged readings, workshops, and panel discussions with local scholars, journalists, and artists.”
So what did this mean for our local economy?
First, the grant had to be matched, so the Director, Board and staff of the CATF had to go out and bring back at least another $17,000 to be spent with the NEA grant. Most of that came from outside our town. That means the original NEA donation was now doubled to $34,000.
Then there was the way the money was used. It paid for a portion of the costs of the 2006 Festival… that means salaries for actors, technicians, designers, administrators, box office personnel. It meant paid advertising in local papers and on local radio (which was spent again in the community by those institutions.) It meant hotel rooms rented during rehearsals and production for playwright, actors who had come in from New York, Baltimore, DC and other cities.
The production attracts program advertising for the local, tourist oriented stores and restaurants on our 2-block downtown area: German Street. Because of those ads, cast, crews, administrators, audiences, visiting press and others spend even more money here in Shepherdstown… money that would not be spent here if CATF were not funded.
Because of CATF, students are drawn to Shepherd University, which houses the Festival and whose staff provides faculty support in the academic season. This brings even more money in the form of tuitions, book expenditures and related items into the town… money that woud not be there if the CATF were not funded.
So you see, the NEA makes a very stimulative difference here.
It has been shown by wiser economists than me that the average return of funds put into a program by the NEA is approximately 8 to 1. Which means that original $17,000 grant in 2006 really equaled $136,000.00. WOW! I get stimulated just thinking about it.
So when Representative Dreier says that $50 Million for the NEA, whose function is to give out grants for operations of arts organizations and artists all over the country, is “not stimulative,” then I’m probably listening to a guy who never looked at the hard reality of the benefit of the arts.
I am glad, then, that there are enough Democrats in the House to approve the compromise bill. And I hope Representative Dreier can realize his error in the near future.