Thursday, February 9, 2017

Is Art Really a Waste of Money?

Way back in 1965, the United States Congress decided that there should be a federal, independent agency whose “funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities.” This is how the National Endowment for the Arts came to be. There is a reason VSA Texas and the National Endowment for the Arts work so well together; through our missions, we strive to make art an important part of life that reaches across all lines. I’ve been hearing a lot of talk about defunding one of the only federal agencies I like, and it’s just not something I can understand. Is art really a waste of money?

For the last ten years, the NEA has funded some of our most groundbreaking work. Our first grant from them allowed us to put together a strategic plan that paved the way for us to bring Accessible Arts, an art therapy program, into schools. This was the first validation of the quality of work we were doing.
Photo of cast and crew from “Daze of Our Lives,” onstage after a 2008 performance at the LBJ Performing Arts Center
This led to another year that allowed us to hire a choreographer and director for our Actual Lives Company. Up to that point, we were mostly doing stretching and movement on stage. Now, we were able to bring in a dance element, and from this, we created our program Body Shift.

“I continue to be amazed at the transformative impact Celia Hughes and VSA Texas have had on the central Texas dance community. What started as a few annual classes has grown into a dance community comprised of people of all abilities, and this supportive Body Shift community could not have existed without the efforts of Celia and her team. I’m humbled by their endless work towards increasing access to the arts for all people, and I’m proud to partner with them for another season of Body Shift.” - Allison Orr, Artistic Director, Forklift Danceworks

The next year, with the success of the previous two grants, we were able to bring in Alito Alessi, founder of Danceability International, to do a 10-day teacher orientation and workshop to introduce his method to our Body Shift Mixed Ability Dance Community. From that, we were then able to raise our own funds to bring him back for a month to train twenty-eight teachers from all over the United States and Mexico. We are very proud to be the first city in the US to host this full-on Danceability Teacher Certification training program in ten years!
Three women in blue t-shirts engage in dance with a woman in a pink shirt in a wheelchair and a man in a red shirt, who is also in a wheelchair.
This year, we are bringing in StopGap Dance Company, a premier mixed ability dance company out of the United Kingdom. They will be devising a new site-specific performance with dancers from the Body Shift community to be seen in Austin in early August 2017.
I’m telling you all of this because through four small grants, the NEA has provided the VSA Texas family with some of the most valuable programs we run and they have directly been responsible for the improvement of well over 5,000 lives. VSA Texas is proof that you don’t have to have a lot of money to make a HUGE impact, not to mention a pretty solid return on investment, considering how much we were able to do with around $10,000 per grant.

We need to change the rhetoric that the arts are a dispensable commodity, rather than a crucial part of the very fabric our humanity is built upon. If you don’t want to see the arts go away in your lifetime, then say something about it. Make your voice heard. Support a local arts organization, buy from a local artist, employ artists and pay them what they’re worth. We can’t control national funding, but we can support people in our own backyards. It’s time to get creative.

No comments:

Post a Comment