Region considers consequences of arts funding cuts

  • Astrid Kipka, a ConVal senior, believes arts education is essential. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

  • Astrid Kipka, a ConVal senior and Poetry Out Loud winner, believes arts education is essential. Staff photo by Brandon Latham

  • Astrid Kipka, a ConVal senior, believes arts education is essential. (Brandon Latham / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Staff photo by Brandon Latham—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 4/25/2017 7:36:19 AM

When the White House issued its first proposed budget of the new administration in March, among the lines decreases from previous years were the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts. Both had been cut from $148 million, to $0.

The Monadnock Region is known for its arts and culture, and the National Endowment for the Arts is not a small reason why. In 2016, over $70,000 of federal funds went straight into the 16 towns of the Ledger-Transcript coverage area. That does not include the state arts funding coming to the region, and private fundraising inspired by federal support.

“It would be devastating for us, and devastating I think for the field,” Ginnie Lupi, director of the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts, said. “It’s a scary time.”

She said this state is unique in that most of its grant money comes from the National Endowment for the Arts, NEA, and a smaller percentage comes from the state. That money is granted from the NEA to the New Hampshire Council, which then distributes grants to local people and institutions.

The council will receive $719,400 from the NEA in 2017, good for about 70 percent of its budget, according to Lupi. This is in part, she said, because the NEA favors communities like New Hampshire.

“We strategically allocate our federal appropriations to communities and populations that are considered underserved,” she said. “So we’re very mindful about how we distribute that federal money in the grant-making process.”

Communities that are considered underserved include rural areas and have high concentrations of medical facilities, older populations, and addiction recovery services. Turning underserved communities into thriving culture centers is one of the goals of the NEA, which even has an award specifically for cultural placemaking.

It’s called the Our Town Grant, its name inspired by Peterborough’s legacy, dedicated to “creative placemaking projects that help to transform communities into lively, beautiful, and resilient places with the arts at their core.”

In 2016, the New Hampshire Council on the Arts awarded state money to Antrim Elementary School and ConVal High School for artist in residence programs, Monadnock Music in Peterborough, and Antrim resident Loranne Carey-Block for a traditional arts apprenticeship in Abenaki ash basket weaving.

“These Council on the Arts grants are the best thing going,” she said. Her son also participated in grant programs for playing bagpipes and the fiddle.

The council also allocated a larger amount of NEA funds to a variety of local institutions, including the recently-wrapped Monadnock International Film Festival.

The Crotched Mountain Foundation in Greenfield received a grant of $3,600 for an arts in health program.

TEAM Jaffrey was granted $4,000 for community engagement for summer music on the town common.

The Monadnock Chorus, based in Peterborough, got $2,250 for community engagement for various performances, including using period instruments.

Andy’s Summer Playhouse in Wilton and the Peterborough Players got grants for investment in cultural infrastructure, valuing $6,500 and $9,500 respectively.

That is the federal money awarded by the state. In the past few years, the endowment has also given money directly to regional programs.

In 2015, Peterborough’s Monadnock Music was granted $10,000.

The MacDowell Colony was granted $40,000 in 2015, $35,000 in 2016, and $25,000 in 2017.

Electric Earth Concerts, which strives to bring affordable music performances to schools and the public and is based in Peterborough, is getting $10,000 in 2017.

According to the New Hampshire Council on the Arts, these grants help leverage private funding. According to Lupi, a study done in 2016 showed that $245,000 in grant money helped organizations leverage $14.5 million, a ratio of about 59 to 1.

“The investment goes a long way,” she said.

The MacDowell Colony, the nation’s oldest artist colony, released a statement that it is concerned about possibly losing NEA funding and said the colony has been supported since the NEA was created.

“Their guidance has helped us become the leading program in the country, helping MacDowell being singled out for the National Medal for the Arts,” Executive Director Cheryl A. Young said in the release. “Without the grant, MacDowell will have to divert energy to replacing those funds instead of using new funding to remain current with changing times.”

The NEA and sister National Endowment for the Humanities were founded in 1965. In the National Foundation of the Arts and Humanities Act, which created them, it says, “An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.”

Today, in 2017, they make up $296 million in the federal budget, which comes to not quite 0.0001 percent.

Among the most cherished arts education programs in the region is Poetry Out Loud, a nationwide, fully NEA funded series where high schoolers recite works aloud. Winners are given prizes to benefit their local libraries. About 10,000 New Hampshire students participate.

Jason Lambert has been the teacher in charge of ConVal’s poetry out loud for seven years, and sits on the state-level advisory council. During his time, ConVal has had a state champion and won about $500 in prizes.

“It’s an opportunity not only to look more closely at poetry and poems, but also to experience poetry out loud with meaning and imagery on a different level,” he said. “It taps into another type of student who may have a poetic soul but didn’t connect to literature or language in other ways, so it’s very special.”

The ability to reach students for whom regular classroom learning does not connect is a centerpiece of Poetry Out Loud. Astrid Kipka, a ConVal senior and four-time school champion, said she remembers being excited by the variety of students who participate.

“There was a varsity football player, somebody who wanted to go into biochemistry, so poetry and the Poetry Out Loud program can bring people together to experience moments that you wouldn’t otherwise get,” she said, adding that she was not always a poetry fan.

Kipka works at Dublin Community Preschool and considers studying Russian history in college. She has a theater background. All of this, she said, is about reading.

So much of education in the 21st century focuses on science and technology. Kipka thinks these are important, and emphasizes that she does not want to belittle them, but “at the same time you can’t forget your literary arts.”

Beyond grants, state and national arts groups help people on a local level in various ways. The New Hampshire Council supports arts in other fields, such as health care, promotes residency programs in schools, and provides marketing and fundraising training to individuals.

It also fights for inclusion of all people, Lupi said, especially in “breaking down barriers to access.”

Right now, Lupi said, its behaving as business as usual, noting that cuts have come in the past, especially during the recession. It is hopeful about adding a position to focus on New Hampshire’s cultural economy, and cautiously optimistic about congressional support.

The next step is advocacy.

“We can’t be out there lobbying on the state or federal level, it is just not our place,” Lupi said because the council is a state department. “We do have advocacy partners working for us.”




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