2009 Written Testimony
Written Statement of
Theatre Communications Group
Submitted March 26, 2009 to
The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee
On the Importance of Increased Federal Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)
Director of Government & Education Programs
Theatre Comunications Group
520 Eighth Avenue, 24th Floor
New York, NY 10018
(212) 609-5900 ext. 228, firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Chairman and distinguished members of the subcommittee, Theatre Communications Group – the national service organization for the American theatre – is grateful for this opportunity to submit testimony on behalf of our 485 not-for-profit member theatres across the country and the 31 million audience members that the theatre community serves. We urge you to support an increased appropriation of $200 million for the National Endowment for the Arts.
Indeed, the entire not-for-profit arts industry stimulates the economy, creates jobs and attracts tourism dollars. The not-for-profit arts generate $166.2 billion annually in economic activity, support 5.7 million jobs and return $12.6 billion in federal income taxes. Art museums, exhibits and festivals combine with performances of theatre, dance, opera and music to draw tourists and their consumer dollars to communities nationwide. Federal funding of the arts creates a significant return, generating many more dollars in matching funds for each federal dollar awarded, and is clearly an investment in the economic health of America. In an uncertain economy where corporate donations and foundation grants to the arts are diminished, and increased ticket prices would undermine efforts to broaden and diversify audiences, these federal funds simply cannot be replaced. Maintaining the strength of the not-for-profit sector, along with the commercial sector, will be vital to supporting the economic health of our nation.
Our country's not-for-profit theatres develop innovative educational activities and outreach programs, providing millions of young people, including "at-risk" youth, with important skills for the future by expanding their creativity and developing problem-solving, reasoning and communication abilities – preparing today's students to become tomorrow's citizens. Our theatres present new works and serve as catalysts for economic growth in their local communities. These theatres also nurture – and provide artistic homes for the development of – the current generation of acclaimed writers, actors, directors and designers working in regional theatre, on Broadway and in the film and television industries. At the same time, theatres have become increasingly responsive to their communities, serving as healing forces in difficult times, and producing work that reflects and celebrates the strength of our nation's diversity.
Here are some examples of NEA funding impact:
From the NEA's Access to Artistic Excellence Program:
Actors Theatre of Louisville in Louisville, KY received $45,000 to fund the 33rd Annual Humana Festival of New American Plays which continues to add a rich diversity of new voices and works to the world’s dramatic repertoire. Thanks to the support of the NEA, more than 25,000 people from 34 states and a dozen foreign nations participate each year in festival performances and educational opportunities. Actors Theatre creates opportunities for theatre producers, artistic directors, literary managers, theatre critics and theatre-lovers from across the country and around the world to see full productions of new work, which inform their own season planning. In so doing, the theatre introduces local, regional, national and international audiences to some of the most exciting new work happening in the American theatre. During the 2009 festival, 250 graduate and undergraduate students will participate in College Days, which offers both performance opportunities and educational talk-back sessions with festival staff and guest artists. Through 32 years of the Humana Festival, Actors Theatre has produced more than 400 new plays, representing more than 200 playwrights.
Boise Contemporary Theater in Boise, ID received a grant for $10,000 to support their production of I Have Before Me a Remarkable Document Given to Me by a Young Lady From Rwanda by Sonja Linden. Inspired by the real life experiences of refugees in the UK, the play tells the story of two people from entirely different worlds who meet in London in 1999, five years after the genocide in Rwanda. Juliette is a young Rwandan asylum seeker determined to write a book about the tragedy that killed her family. Simon is a struggling middle-aged poet and novelist who teaches writing at a refugee center. The play follows their funny and touching journey to an inspiring conclusion. Throughout the run of the production, BCT offered free tickets to the local refugee community, and were met with an encouraging and enthusiastic response.
Cleveland Play House in Cleveland, OH received $25,000 to commission and produce a new stage adaptation of the Thornton Wilder novel Heaven’s My Destination. Wilder’s 1935 novel will receive its stage premiere this April under the direction of Cleveland Play House Artistic Director Michael Bloom. This hilarious tale about goodness in a fallen world, adapted by award-winning playwright Lee Blessing, follows a traveling textbook salesman and fervent religious convert on a personal journey to lead a good life during Depression-era America. The Clevelabd Play House serves 100,000 patrons in the Greater Cleveland region including approximately 20,000 students. This production will also include a free panel discussion with panelists who are close to Wilder and to the production, as well as experts onthe play's historical context.
Seattle Repertory Theatre in Seattle, WA received $35,000 to support the upcoming production of Conor McPherson’s The Seafarer, directed by Wilson Milam who is a Bellevue, Washington native. Milam was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Director of a Play for Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore. The Seafarer is a darkly funny and compelling new play about Ireland, the power of myth and the bond of a group of friends. Seattle Repertory Theatre engages in several forms of community outreach including pre-play warm-ups for preview performances, lobby talks andpostplaydiscussions,as well as their popular subscriber social groups, happy hour and taste of the Rep. These programs allow community members and supporters to engage socially, and maintain relationships with their fellow audience members and artists alike.
The Signature Theatre in Arlington, VA received $40,000 to host the world premiere production of the musical Giant. Adapted from the American classic novel by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Edna Ferber (Showboat), Giant is a daring new musical that tells the powerful story of a Texas rancher and his Virginia-born wife as they face increasing challenges in an ever-changing American landscape. The play explores two generations of Texas ranchers as they are confronted with Mexican American race relations in the face of a growing oil industry. A musical project in the making for more than two years, Giant was commissioned as part of Signature’s American Musical Voices Project, which provides opportunities to selected composers to create new musical theatre works. Artistic director Eric Schaeffer will direct 17 actors, a 12-person design team, and a 21-piece orchestra, with music and lyrics by five-time Tony Award® nominee Michael John LaChiusa, and book by Sybille Pearson.
From the NEA's Shakespeare for a New Generation Program:
The Idaho Shakespeare Festival in Boise, ID received $25,000 to fund their fifth consecutive educational outreach tour of Shakespearience This initiative has been bringing William Shakespeare’s plays to life for Idaho youth in grades 7-12 – with full sets, costumes and sound – since 1986. The tour reaches students in about 90% of Idaho’s 44 counties, including those in remote rural and underserved areas and runs from February – May with approximately 80 performances in 70 secondary schools. Shakespearience typically reaches more than 22,000 students and 1,500 teachers, administrators, parents and community members annually. Study guides are sent to teachers in advance of the performance, and include a synopsis of the play, comments from the director, a biography of William Shakespeare, actor biographies, discussion questions and activities and links to further resource materials. Q&A sessions after each performance allow students to ask actors thought-provoking questions and give students the chance to learn more about themes and issues in the play as well as the mechanics of acting, production and the work it takes to produce a play.
These are only a few examples of the kinds of extraordinary programs supported by the National Endowment for the Arts. Indeed, the Endowment's Theater Program is able to fund only half of the applications it receives, so the other 50% of the theatres are turned away because there aren't sufficient funds. Theatre Communications Group urges you to support increased funding for FY10 for the NEA, so that more not-for-profit professional arts organizations can continue to educate and entertain audiences, train the next generation of artists, and generate local revenue nationwide.
The American public favors spending federal tax dollars in support of the arts. Today, federal arts funding enjoys solid bipartisan support in the House and Senate. The NEA is funded at $155 million in the current fiscal year (FY09); however, it has never recovered from a 40% budget cut in FY96 and its programs are still under-funded. Current funding amounts to just 51 cents per capita, as compared to 69 cents per capita in FY 1992. If the NEA had maintained its 1992 appropriation of $176 million, that would amount to only 58 cents per capita today. Although it received partial restoration in FY 2008, and a $10 million increase in FY 2009, the arts community seeks a total appropriation of $200 million for FY 2010, which would not only restore the agency to its 1992 level, and but also help maintain a healthy nonprofit arts sector that can contribute fully to communities nationwide.
Thank you for considering this request.