NEA Budget Cut Worries Art Organizations and Art Education

COLUMBIA — Los Angeles is the dream place for almost every filmmaker. It is also the city that Gabby Galarza has planned to go after graduation.

Galarza is a senior digital filmmaking major student in Stephens College. She wants to be a cinematographer in Los Angeles.

However, when Galarza came back to Columbia from studying abroad in Glasgow, Scotland, she was hit by the news that President Donald Trump’s proposed budget for 2018 called for “shutting down” the National Endowment for the Arts, slashing 80 percent of its funding. Her dream to work in Los Angeles has become more difficult.

“I know the cost of living in Los Angeles is very high, and I have planned to apply for the NEA funding to support my career,” said Galarza. “I depend on these funds to make the things I do and have the equipment that I need.”

According to its official website, the National Endowment for the Arts is an independent federal agency that funds and supports people who want to participate in the arts.

After 52 years of operation, NEA is facing a real crisis. President Trump’s new $1.4 trillion budget was released on May 23. Under the proposal, it aims to “begin shutting down” the NEA. The funding of NEA would go from $148 million in the fiscal year of 2017 to $29 million in the fiscal year of 2018, beginning on October 1.

In the proposal, the administration does not consider NEA activities to be core responsibilities of the federal government. In 2014, NEA funding represented only 4 percent of total public and private support for the arts in the U.S., according to the CNS News.

Galarza might need to rely on the NEA funding because other sources of funding are hard to obtain.

Before studying in the University of Glasgow, Galarza started a fundraising campaign at gofundme.com to raise money for her living and working fees in Scotland. She planned to shoot her graduation project there. She set the goal at $1,500 and she only received $680. Galarza said the money was still not enough for her to shoot the movie, and she wanted more reliable funding to support her career.

Galarza is not only worried about her own future career, but also the Citizen Jane Film Festival that she works for. So does the executive director of the film festival, Barbie Banks.

Banks is worried that the reduced funding could heavily influence the Citizen Jane Film Festival. Founded at Stephens College, Citizen Jane focuses on independent films made by independent women. One of the biggest sponsors of the nonprofit film festival is the Missouri Arts Council.

Missouri Arts Council is a state agency that aims to broaden the growth of arts in Missouri. NEA is one of the three funding agencies of Missouri Arts Council. According to the St. Louis Public Radio, if the Congress passes the budget proposal, Missouri Arts Council would lose 13 percent of its annual budget, which is about $729,000.

“It made me nervous because we may need to rely more on corporations,” said Banks. “The money from them is unstable.”

Banks said the funding that Citizen Jane received from Missouri Arts Council was $14,000 last year, which accounted for 50 percent of the funding that the film festival got.

“If we don’t get the funding, we may need to cut some of our programming,” said Banks.

Another film festival in Columbia, True/False Film Festival, also relies on NEA funding. True/False is an annual documentary film festival run by the Ragtag Film Society.

According to the NEA website, the Ragtag Film Society got a $60,000 grant for the film festival in 2016. In 2017, the number decreased to $55,000. The educational director of True/False Film Festival, Allison Coffelt, said they think the change results from the budget cut that NEA is experiencing.

“The funding from NEA is one of the largest one that we get,” said Coffelt. “Losing that money from NEA does hurt us.”

As mentioned on the NEA website, the grants that it provides for True/False are used to support education activities. Coffelt said the grant has been used in different ways. From 2014 to 2016, the funding from NEA to the Ragtag Film Society had increased from $25,000 to $60,000. The increased funding helped True/False to start the Media Literacy Initiative program in 2016, which supports teachers in Columbia Public Schools to incorporate more film and multimedia into classrooms.

While True/False is accepting applications from interested teachers for the 2018 season, the possible budget cut may prevent the further development of the program.

“That is why I think NEA is vital to our community,” said Coffelt. “It is central to the growth of our children.”

The possible budget cut of NEA has already concerned some art students and educators.

Stephens College has a long history with strong programs in the arts and performing arts. Right now, those who study or work with the arts worry about the uncertain future because of the possible budget cut.

Kerri Yost, an associate professor of digital filmmaking at Stephens and founder of Citizen Jane Film Festival, said the budget cut will influence all artists, and especially independent artists. Many of her students are working as or want to be independent filmmakers, and the potential budget cut is not good news to them.

“Ultimately, students come to the school for a job,” Yost said. “If everyone in the field says there is no job in the filmmaking, you are not going to study that in college.”

Galarza, who will graduate next year, also wants to be an independent filmmaker. While in college, she does not need to worry much about money because she got a $5,000 scholarship and other help from the college. However, she does not see a clear future after graduation.

“I want to be an independent digital filmmaker because there is more passion in it,” Galarza said. “But it’s the money that will decide where I will end up.”