Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) was founded on the notion that all Americans have an interest in the cultural health of their community. At a time when budgets are increasingly stretched, the National Endowment for the Arts has been quietly filling otherwise devastating budgetary holes affecting our communities in Virginia and nationwide.
In towns and cities across the country, NEA has made key investments in artistic programming and infrastructure. In New York Mills, Minnesota, a rural community with a population of less than 1,000, for example, a grant of $35,000 was used to renovate a downtown building into an arts and cultural center. The projected worked to reverse the trend of economic decline and encourage new business, resulting in a 40% increase in the number of jobs in the community. In Paducah, Kentucky (population 26,000) an investment of $40,000 worked to revitalize the downtown by offering artists affordable real estate, financial incentives, relaxed zoning laws, and marketing support. Today, the Lowertown area of Paducah has an occupancy rate of at least 90%. Arts audiences in the Greater Paducah area spent nearly $28 million when visiting local arts events in 2007.
Indeed, the arts community-often supported by federal funding and private charities-can prove a significant economic driver in its own right. According to a 2005 study by Americans for the Arts, there are over 686,000 businesses in the U.S. involved in the creation or distribution of the arts, employing over 2.8 million people. Total economic impact from the arts industry is estimated at over $166 billion.
Northern Virginia is home to over 2200 arts-related businesses employing nearly 12,000 people. Industry expenditures were over $130 million in 2005. In Alexandria, art industry expenditures were over $13 million, which supported roughly 500 jobs and generated over $5 million in revenue to state and local governments. The City of Fairfax spent $6 million on the arts, supporting roughly 200 jobs and generating over $11 million in revenue.
But artistic programming is not just an economic driver; it often serves as the cultural and social keystone of a community. In Northern Virginia, NEA grants support forums such as the Signature Theater in Arlington and the Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts in Vienna.
Sadly, when local governments make the difficult decision to reduce funding for the arts to meet budgetary shortfalls, they are not simply cutting frills. They are cutting part of the economic, social and cultural fabric our communities. As Chair of the House subcommittee that oversees federal funding for programs such as the National Endowment of the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, I will continue to support the arts as an economic driver and key to the cultural and spiritual health of our nation.
Rep. James Moran (D) is Virginia’s 8th Congressional District Representative in the U.S. House of Representatives.