Arts Budgets, Job Creation, and the NEA

Written by Barbara Krebs, a Young Audiences volunteer and Sunburst Society member

With all the talk of entirely eliminating funding for organizations such as the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from the federal budget, a recent Washington Post Magazine article caught my attention. The June 11, 2017 issue featured a boldly colored cover and the caption, “Is Arts Funding Essential or Wasteful? We traveled the country to find out.”

I was especially intrigued since one of the arts projects they highlighted was in Wilson, NC – where I lived as a teenager. I admit that I haven’t been back in many years, but I had heard from friends that the town had fallen on hard times as tobacco warehouses (once the backbone of the economy) closed down.

The article opened with the development of Whirligig Park, which is dedicated to the artwork created by Vollis Simpson, who fashioned giant whirligigs out of scrap metal that he collected from his day job of transporting houses and heavy machinery. Before his death in 2013, Simpson had gained quite a following; the man and his artwork had been featured in publications that range from The New York Times, USA Today, The Washington Post, and the Smithsonian Magazine, among many.

As I read the Post article, it highlighted how the NEA had been “an early believer in the civic power of Simpson’s creations.” With the help of the organization and its grants, locals also began seeing the possibilities – to draw tourists and their dollars to Wilson – and skeptics gradually became believers. People who had originally viewed Simpson’s whirligigs as junk now began to see how the arts could help revitalize a moribund downtown.

But just as all politics is local, so too are the arts.  You focus on where you live.  With that in mind, a quick check of the NEA web site revealed that in the Fall of 2016, 19 grants, totaling $520,000, were awarded to a variety of Maryland arts groups. And while these groups range widely in mission and artistic focus, two things stood out:  1) how many of these groups reach out with the arts to educate and 2) these NEA grants create much-needed jobs.

Over the years NEA support has made it possible for Young Audiences to reach children in every county in our state…

Under the education category, award recipients include the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra’s OrchKids program, which provides Baltimore City Public School students with a music and mentorship program; Wide Angle Youth Media, Inc., which teaches students how to share their voices through media arts education; The National Association of Black Storytellers, Inc., whose Adopt-A-Teller Program places African American storytellers in schools for performances and workshops to share and preserve the rich heritage of the African Oral Tradition; Arts on the Block (AOB) who provides teens in and around Montgomery County real-world work experiences through the arts; and World Arts Focus in Mount Rainier, for a program developed improve the health, identity, and independence of teenagers and adults with autism, Down syndrome, cerebral palsy, or other disabilities through dance.

Over the years NEA support has made it possible for Young Audiences to reach children in every county in our state and has provided consistent support for teaching artist training, ensuring that our programs are not only accessible and affordable to underserved students, but are of high quality and enhance the curriculum of our schools.

What about the job creation category?  Here are a few thoughts on the economic impact of the arts in our communities.

  • Employment opportunities – we’re not just talking artists and dancers here. The arts also employ carpenters, electricians and many other technical and administrative jobs needed to produce showcases, exhibitions and museum presentations.
  • Arts education – at Young Audiences we see every day, firsthand, what a huge impact the arts have in helping students connect to reading, math, and science. Educated youth become educated adults with jobs that create a tax base.
  • Tourism – Many struggling small towns, and even larger cities, have boosted the local economy by creating arts zones, which draw in tourists, which, in turn, creates the need for restaurants, hotels, and other tourist-oriented businesses.

So what lesson can we take from all this? I think it is simply that the arts do matter – a lot.  The arts help create and maintain vibrant community ties, which in turn translates into real economic impact. Before the Post Magazine article caught my eye, I had read an article in the April 2017 issue of Our State, Celebrating North Carolina. I read about 217 Brew Works, which opened last November, hmm, across the street from Whirligig Park.  Tourists certainly enjoy the proximity of the brewery to the park, but more importantly, locals are the true economic boosters – coming down to talk, to relax and to enjoy their community’s new meeting spot.

It’s also worth noting that when the arts are supported, great synergies are created. For example the Our State article ended with, “another developer has moved forward with plans to create Whirligig Station – apartments, restaurants, and some office space – in an empty red-brick tobacco warehouse on another edge of the park.”

Far from being an unnecessary frill as some critics of the NEA portray it, what is readily apparent is how many small communities discovered an economic lifeline from the grants that the NEA provides. The closed factory, the shuttered mill, the abandoned plant are sadly a fact of life in too many small towns.   But as many of them have discovered, there are opportunities here as well. Who knows what might happen in your community when you combine artistic vision, a good beer, and an NEA grant?

Scott Patterson

Coming up on the June edition of smARTbeats on WTMD: pianist and composer Scott Patterson

smARTbeats returns to WTMD this Saturday, June 10, during the weekly children’s music program Young At Heart. On this month’s smARTbeats segment, Young At Heart host Lisa Mathews sits down for a chat with Scott Patterson, pianist, composer, YA teaching artist, and co-founder and Artistic Director of Afro House, a music-driven performance art house based in Baltimore.

During the segment, you’ll hear Scott Patterson’s luxuriant blend of classical, soul and rock music, which Pittsburgh Tribune-Review describes as “a masterly blend of virtuosity, singing style and beautiful voicing” and learn about his work as a performing and teaching artist, and how the arts can impact the lives and education of children.

Scott Patterson

“As a performer and composer, I put my entire being, passion, and skills into telling a story.” Scott says, “Doing so enables me to take the audience on a journey to transcend limitations and transform the heart. My approach to creating and performing extends to my work in schools. As a teaching artist, I have seen firsthand the positive impact of arts education on students.”

In schools, Scott Patterson welcomes students into his assembly performance Outer Space Improvisations with the sounds of space, immersing students in original space-themed compositions inspired by composers and artists such as Beethoven, Liszt, Earth, Wind & Fire, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Maroon 5, and Bruno Mars. To expand the connection, facts about space are woven in throughout the program to deepen their intergalactic experience.

Patterson says one of the reasons he joined the Young Audiences teaching artist roster was a fond memory of the school assemblies he attended as a child. “Whether the assembly was about public safety or a performance, the message always stuck with me. Assemblies were presented as something special, a time to get out of the classroom and see information presented in a fun and interesting way. It is my hope that Outer Space Improvisations leaves the same kind of positive impression on students as the assemblies I attended as a child.”

“Through music,” Scott says, “I encourage students to see the convergence of academic disciplines, rather than single out one in particular. In using improvisation activities, I invite students to pull from what they know about math, literature, science, and history to create something entirely new and unique.”

As a performing artist and co-founder and Artistic Director of Afro House, Patterson and his team are “committed to the development of a music culture that is disruptive, exuberant, innovative, emergent, and transformative.” At the center of Afro House stands the Astronaut Symphony, a contemporary music ensemble that creates symphonic performance art pieces, such as Patterson’s sci-fi tone poem, Ebon Kojo: The Last Tribe. Recently, the Astronaut Symphony was in residence at Single Carrot Theatre and NextLOOK and most recently performed during Nights on the Fringe at The Baltimore Theatre Project.

A Piano Performance major, Patterson studied under Richard Fields at the University
of Cincinnati’s College-Conservatory of Music and Phillip Kawin at the Manhattan School of Music.

WTMD 89.7 FM

Young At Heart airs weekly from 7 to 8 am on Saturdays, featuring music that appeals to parents and children alike. Previous shows have featured music by Wilco, David Bowie, Andrew & Polly, Weezer, and others.

Hear YA teaching artist and composer Scott Patterson online now!

Maura Dwyer

Congratulations TAI Graduates!

We all know that artists can change the world. The Summer Arts & Learning Academy is proof of that. The Teaching Artist Institute (TAI) helps give artists the tools they need to do it.

Participating in TAI allowed me to look past what was most commonly done, embrace my artistic instincts, and focus on what really matters,” said Maura Dwyer, one of the Teaching Artist Institute’s newest graduates. “Instead of teaching students how to paint, I am teaching them how to think visually.”

During the course of the programs, artists worked with classroom teachers to design arts-integrated and Common Core-aligned fine arts programs for schools. Each TAI team designs and implements an artist-in-residence program in which teachers gain arts skills and artists gain valuable teaching skills. Topics such as classroom management strategies, designing, writing, and teaching artist-in-residence lessons, and educator needs are covered, as well as opportunities for field testing and feedback.

Congratulations to the following artists and teacher partners who completed the TAI seminars in May 2017!

Next summer we are going to need even more qualified teaching artists to work at our academy. Apply to the Teaching Artist Institute by Friday June 9 to be trained and considered for summer 2018! New artists who successfully complete TAI, graduate from the program, and meet additional requirements, will not only be hired for our summer program, their tuition will be reimbursed!