Art matters economically, Utah leaders say
Cutting budgets would eliminate jobs and community programs, arts advocates say.
Overall, here's the message a trio of arts leaders delivered to Utah's congressional delegation in meetings last week: Utah voters work in the arts and Utah voters enthusiastically participate in the arts.
Utah voters also support paying arts and recreation taxes, says Gay Cookson, director of the state's Division of Arts & Museums.
As an example of voter support, advocates cite the 77 percent of Salt Lake County voters who last November reauthorized for the third time the Zoo, Arts and Parks tax, distributing 1/10th of 1 percent of sales taxes to local programs.
Across the state, voters have approved six similar county and 26 city taxes.
Of course, fighting over arts funding isn't new, Utah arts leaders say, recalling battles in the 1980s and 1990s during previous Republican administrations. Arts leaders underscored that bipartisan support saved federal funding in the past, and caused grant programs to be restructured and aimed at community programs.
What's different this time around is the Trump factor. "We haven't had a president make this an issue," says Crystal Young-Otterstrom, executive director of the Utah Cultural Alliance, an advocacy group for arts and humanities. "Trump represents a lot of uncertainty for some in many areas, including the arts. We're kind of in a wild, wild West zone."
Despite all the changes on immigration and trade that Trump has announced through executive orders, the arts funding questions will be part of the larger process of Congress' adoption of a federal budget. A new president typically presents a budget proposal in the spring, while the U.S. House and Senate present their own spending blueprints.
Local arts advocates stress the federal arts money is matched by private and state dollars, then distributed through local agencies. NEA works with state governments, such as Utah's Department of Heritage & Arts, and NEH with independent local nonprofit agencies, such as Utah Humanities.
Some 40 percent of the NEA's budget is directed back to the states, based on population, and that allocation requires local matches, a rarity among federal programs. "It's a very unique partnership, and that's very much appreciated by our delegation," Cookson says.
Utah Humanities uses NEH funds to support programs statewide, which might undercut possible political arguments about the arts only serving "elites." "Our results in every corner of the state make a difference," Buckingham says. "That's what makes a difference for me when I talk to [Utah] legislators. I can talk to almost every single person about what happened in their districts that would not have happened without us. And they hear it from their own constituents."
Arts leaders say the highly competitive federal grants serve "as a stamp of approval," says Gretchen Dietrich, executive director of the Utah Museum of Fine Arts. "It shows that we are engaging and working in the sector at a very high level."
But Trump continues to spark upheavals on many fronts in the first weeks of his new administration, which translates to Utah artists and administrators seeing inevitable funding fights ahead. "I think we've got a whole lot of evidence and good will on our side," Buckingham says of Utah's relationship with state and federal elected officials.
At Sundance, Putnam called for help from voters who are arts lovers. "I think what people can do — not just artists but all people, whether they're educators or artists or parents or anyone — is to speak up for what role arts bring to our culture and our lives, and our ability to understand our world," she said. "I think it's a critical issue for all Americans."
Tribune staff writer Sean P. Means contributed to this story.