Testimony of Robin Bronk, CEO, The Creative Coalition

Testimony of Robin Bronk, CEO, The Creative Coalition
Fiscal Year 2020 Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
U.S. House of Representatives

Chairwoman McCollum, Ranking Member Joyce, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony in support of Fiscal Year (FY) 2020 funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) on behalf of The Creative Coalition. We respectfully request the Committee provide $167.5 million for the NEA in the upcoming fiscal year.

This funding increase would enable the NEA to significantly expand upon its contribution to the arts and culture industry which accounted for 4.2 percent of GDP in 2015 or $763.6 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce. That same year, according to federal statistics, the arts and culture industry supported 4.9 million jobs and brought in a $20 billion trade surplus when so much of the U.S. economy has been operating a trade deficit. An additional $12.5 million for the NEA in FY 2020 would be a relatively modest investment in a program that amounts to approximately 0.004 percent of the federal budget, yet leverages at least $9 in non-federal spending for every NEA dollar spent.

The Creative Coalition thanks Congress for recognizing the importance of the arts and rejecting calls by the Administration to eliminate federal funding for the NEA. Your choice to instead incrementally increase the agency’s budget over the past five years has expanded access to the arts. The beneficiaries are the many small towns and communities throughout the United States that may not otherwise enjoy artistic opportunities. Our requested funding level for FY2020 of $167.5 million (a $12.5 million increase over the current level), while ambitious, will simply restore the program’s funding back to the level it received from Congress a decade ago.

As part of its mission, the NEA distributes grant funding to promote equal access to the arts in every congressional district across America. The NEA brings the arts to underserved communities where opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, economics, or disability. For instance, this year, the NEA awarded $20,000 to the Columbus Museum of Art to support a drop-in art program offered free to Central Ohio teens where they can build confidence, achievement, and empowerment.

The Creative Coalition views access to the arts for all Americans as a fundamental right. Our #RightToBearArts campaign exists to protect, defend and promote the arts for all our citizens. The arts are not a red issue, nor a blue issue; they are a human issue.

The arts inspire and empower us. The arts inspire us to discover who we are and enable us to cope in times of distress. The arts empower us to be successful in school and in our careers. They are the engine for cultivating an engaged citizenry and building communities from our smallest towns to our largest cities.

Take, for instance, the Ozark Foothills Film Fest. With the help of NEA funding, the festival grew from a local five-day festival to span three weeks and involve three communities in rural Arkansas. It now drives tourism in the area and has evolved into partnerships with local universities to offer introductory film studies courses.

Speaking of education, a vital function of NEA’s grant programs is to provide funding for professional development for teachers and administrators. Without properly trained teachers, the full value of arts education would not be realized. Students who have high engagements with the arts have more self-confidence, better grades, and a greater amount of civic involvement.

The correlation between the arts and achievement in science, technology, engineering and math is well-established and widely regarded. Not only does art education help with specific academic disciplines, it is also tied with keeping kids in school. According to the Center for Arts Education, high school students in New York City with at least three art classes were nearly twice as likely to graduate.

Exposure to the arts is also shown to have positive impacts later in life. A survey of 1,500 CEOs conducted by IBM identified creativity as the number one characteristic they look for in their employees.

Jack Dorsey, the co-founder and CEO of both Twitter and Square, is noted for crediting a book about painting as unexpected inspiration for his career. He compares the courage that artists need to be original in their works to the courage it takes to forge one’s own path in business and avoid trying to replicate the success of others. Participation in the arts, which NEA grants make possible, develops creativity and courage.

Participation in the arts also promotes emotional healing. One of the NEA’s most recent programs is the Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network, a collaboration between the National Endowment for the Arts, the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs, and state arts agencies that provides creative arts therapies to help service members deal with trauma as part of an integrated care model. According to a Rand publication, Invisible Wounds: Mental Health and Cognitive Care Needs of America’s Returning Veterans, evidence-based treatments for PTSD and depression, like arts therapy, could save more than $1,000 in healthcare costs per veteran, a total of $1.7 billion.

Via the Creative Forces program, service members receive NEA-supported writing, music, and visual art therapy. Creative Forces creative arts therapists deliver an estimated 1,000 treatment sessions per year, reaching about 200 new patients every year. In 2018, more than 16,000 patient encounters took place, and over 3,000 new patients were served at the 11 clinical sites throughout the country, plus a telehealth program.

On multiple occasions, members of The Creative Coalition have visited with veterans and active- duty service members at Walter Reed in Bethesda, MD and at Fort Belvoir, VA.  We were able to witness the impact of arts therapy first-hand. Each time, we were inspired by the stories about the difference the arts made in the lives of these American heroes after they returned home from war. We heard how arts therapy improved their health in ways that traditional medicine alone could not achieve. The testimonials we heard are backed up by a survey conducted at Walter Reed, where 85 percent of military patients there said art therapy was helpful to their healing.

Founded in 1989 by prominent members of the entertainment community, The Creative Coalition is dedicated to educating, mobilizing, and activating its members on issues of public importance, including the positive impacts of the arts in our communities, in our schools, and to our economy.

Today, we highlight the contributions the NEA makes to our nation and society. These examples illustrate the undervalued resources the NEA provides to state and local communities. They prove the wisdom of investing federal resources in its mission.

The NEA effectively leverages non-federal dollars for maximum economic impact. The NEA supports rural, at-risk and underserved communities. The NEA increases academic performance, and more recently has been shown to provide therapeutic benefits to individuals, including our military, with traumatic brain injury and psychological health conditions.

We call on you to recognize the important contributions of the NEA by increasing its funding level in Fiscal Year 2020 to $167.5 million. Thank you for your consideration of our request.

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