Aspen arts leaders brace for cuts to endowments for arts, humanities
Aspen programs supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts or National Endowment for the Humanities
Aspen Shortsfest 2017 ($10,000)
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet spring tour ($20,000)
Anderson Ranch Arts Center artist-in-residency program ($10,000)
Huts for Vets wilderness therapy for military veterans ($30,000)
Mickalene Thomas artist residency at Aspen Art Museum ($30,000)
National Take a Stand Festival at Aspen Music Festival and School ($45,000)
Leaders of Aspen cultural institutions anxiously await a decision on cuts to federal arts funding, as reports claim the Trump administration is considering defunding or eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for Humanities.
Federal funding supports a diverse swath of local arts programs, from Aspen Film’s Shortsfest to Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s tours, from artist residencies at the Aspen Art Museum and Anderson Ranch Arts Center, to high-profile events at the Aspen Music Festival and School and military veterans’ wilderness therapy excursions through the nonprofit Huts for Vets.
Grants from the feds help arts organizations educate, create and share art with the community and the world. But the money, leaders said, is less important than the statement that America values the arts and humanities.
“It impacts every community in some way, even if it’s a little, and the symbolism that our leaders have their finger on the pulse of the arts nationally is hugely important,” said Aspen Music Festival and School president and CEO Alan Fletcher. “And thus, the symbolism of saying ‘We don’t care about it’ is hugely important. It should be maintained.”
Over the last two years, National Endowment for the Arts grants for Colorado have totaled $790,000 and $160,000 of those direct grants went to Aspen and Roaring Fork Valley programs. Among the regular recipients of direct grants from the National Endowment for the Arts are Aspen Film, which has gotten between $10,000 and $25,000 to produce Aspen Shortsfest annually for the last 15 years. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet’s tours are dependent on grants, as is Anderson Ranch’s artist-in-residence program, which brings 28 artists to Snowmass Village annually for 10-week residencies.
Fletcher, the Music Fest CEO, noted that losing $45,000 to $50,000 from the feds wouldn’t much affect the organization’s $17 million annual budget. But the value of the nation honoring the arts, he believes, is priceless.
The Aspen Art Museum received its first National Endowment for the Arts grant in 2015 for a local residency by artist Mickalene Thomas. This spring, the museum applied for another grant to support a similar program with artist Cheryl Donegan, which museum director Heidi Zuckerman said is part of the museum’s hope to revive works by female artists who have fallen out of the spotlight.
“We value the contributions we get from the city of Aspen and at the state and on the national level,” Zuckerman said. But it’s less about the percentage of the budget and more about the philosophical stance that that city, state and federal government values art.”
Huts for Vets founder Paul Andersen, who is also an Aspen Times columnist, won a $30,000 National Endowment for the Humanities grant last year for his innovative program that brings recent war veterans to local backcountry huts for wilderness therapy. Through Colorado Humanities — the state council of the federal organization — elements of Andersen’s local program have been scaled on a statewide level and are currently being implemented into federal programs for veterans.
Funding for these programs is in the crosshairs of the Trump administration and the U.S. Congress. Administration officials are considering a federal budget that would eliminate both the National Endowment for Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, The Hill reported in January. Both entities were created by an act of Congress in 1965. Each received about $148 million in federal funding last year, totaling less than one-tenth of one percent of the federal budget. Grants from the organizations go to every congressional district in the U.S., chosen through a rigorous grant review process.
The spending is minuscule in terms of the national budget. But government estimates say that every $1 of federal funding creates $9 in local donations. That support, and the ability to leverage it, is of vital importance, several local arts administrators said.
“It’s very important, not only in the sense that it provides critical funding for Shortsfest, but it also signals to other funders that Aspen Film and Aspen Shortsfest is an organization and event that are worthy of their funding,” said Aspen Film executive director John Thew.
If that funding were to go away, it wouldn’t necessarily mean the end of Shortsfest, Thew said, but the funding shortfall would go to moviegoers and filmmakers.
“It would put more pressure on the local community, whether it be in the price of a ticket or individual memberships,” Thew said.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet has received an annual $20,000 annual grant from the National Endowment for the Arts in recent years to support its national tours. Combined with state funds the organization receives from Colorado and New Mexico, executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty estimated the loss of grant funding would be about $40,000 annually.
Losing that stream of funding, Malaty said, would inhibit the company’s ability to travel, especially to smaller communities where venues are smaller and ticket prices lower. The company is currently on a national tour that includes major cities like New York, Philadelphia and Los Angeles, but also includes a string of smaller towns in California. A loss in federal funding would sap the ability of Aspen Santa Fe — and companies like it — to travel to such places, while also cutting such towns’ ability to fund touring company stops.
Direct grants aren’t the only way that federal support for the arts and humanities comes to the Roaring Fork Valley. Federally funded regional and state councils also have a hand locally. The Western States Arts Federation, for example, supports Aspen Words’ poets-in-schools program. And Colorado Humanities frequently sponsors events and partners with organizations throughout the state, including Black History Live, which made several Western Slope stops in February.
An end to the National Endowment for Humanities would mean the end of Colorado Humanities.
“It would be devastating for us,” executive director Maggie Coval said after a recent focus group in Aspen assessing local needs, “and it would be a great loss for the state.”
Like most interviewed for this story, Coval said her organization leverages relatively modest federal funding exponentially. Colorado Humanities gets about $700,000 from the National Endowment for Humanities, which they use to attract about another $700,000 in cash donations plus some $500,000 annually in in-kind donations.
“We’re the catalyst,” Coval said. “That money is not just money. It’s leveraging all kinds of participation in this state.”
The best argument for preserving federal funding for the arts and humanities, in Coval’s view, is in the law that established it 52 years ago.
“It’s right there in the legislation: ‘Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens,’” she quoted.
The law goes on to read, “It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.”
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