By James Hebert
Music instruction in schools, access to the theatrical arts for students from disadvantaged communities, support for visiting artists at a children’s museum.
If President Donald Trump succeeds in eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts, local cultural leaders said these are examples of how the loss of that agency’s relatively modest funding in San Diego County could have an outsized impact on those with the fewest opportunities for artistic exposure: young people and individuals of modest means.
The president’s proposed federal budget, unveiled Thursday, seeks to eliminate the NEA’s entire $148 million funding allotment, essentially shutting down the agency.
The NEA is not the only federal cultural program that would be zeroed out by the Trump budget, which still must be negotiated with Congress. The president is proposing elimination of the $148 million budget for the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as the $421 million budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a source of money for places like the local KPBS television and radio outlet.
In the 2016 fiscal year, 21 arts organizations in San Diego County received a total of $423,000 in NEA money — a tiny percentage of a funding pool that is itself a minuscule portion of the U.S. budget. (In the same year, New York City received $14.5 million from the NEA, according to The New York Times.)
Still, cultural leaders said those funds both support programs that are often aimed at underserved San Diegans and act as powerful leverage for broader support of the arts — financial and otherwise.
“We’re working to create access to music education for kids and families who have historically not had that access, and then to use the program as a driver for all kids to be getting arts education in schools,” said Dalouge Smith, president and CEO of the San Diego Youth Symphony and Conservatory.
Since 2011, Smith’s group has received annual NEA grants totaling $115,000 for its Community Opus Project, which brings teams of teaching artists into Title I schools (those with a high proportion of students from low-income families) in Chula Vista for after-school orchestra and band programs.
The NEA funds make up at least 10 percent of the budget for the program, Smith said.
If they were to go away, “we would be confronted with weighing one of two possibilities: (The program) would go to fewer students, or it would reduce the intensity to students.”
Smith described Community Opus as a “ripple-effect program,” and said since it began in 2010, it has spurred the district to once again offer basic music instruction.