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Cultural Alliance Speaks Out Against Criticism of NEA Stimulus Funding

Cultural Alliance Speaks Out Against Criticism of NEA Stimulus Funding

John McInerney
Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance; 215-399-3515

(Philadelphia)-On December 8th, Senators John McCain and Tom Coburn released a report criticizing 100 stimulus grants funded through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA).

They took specific aim at small grants for arts employment across the country, highlighting two Cultural Alliance members in particular, Pig Iron Theatre Company and Spiral Q Puppet Theater.

On December 11, 2009, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance Chief Operating Officer Tom Kaiden spoke out in defense of these grants, and arts jobs specifically, appearing on the national news show, “Fox and Friends.”

“The arts are about jobs, with over 2.6 million people working in nonprofit arts positions across the country, and another 3.1 million people working in jobs supported by the industry,” Kaiden said. “More importantly, the creative economy is a key competitive advantage for America globally, and critical for our economic recovery.  To say that these grants are frivolous is simply not true.  These grants supported hard-working professionals with families - citizens who pay grocery bills, mortgages, and taxes.”

The $25,000 grant for Spiral Q Puppet Theater supported a portion of the salary of the organization’s Production Manager, a position responsible for teacher training, the internship program, neighborhood parades, and support of the education program.

“Without that recovery support we would have been faced with reducing our full-time staff by a third,” said Tracy Broyles, Executive Director of Spiral Q Puppet Theater. “If we had to eliminate that position, the domino effect would have reduced our arts education program by 50% at a time when we have increasing demand for education services by teachers, principals and other community groups that serve children in low income neighborhoods.”

The $25,000 grant for Pig Iron Theatre Company preserved the position of Associate Artistic Director and funded actor’s salaries for Pig Iron's acclaimed, world premiere production of Welcome to Yuba City.

"Many theatres are closing or cutting back on programming, both here in Philadelphia and nationally,” said Pig Iron's Managing Director John Frisbee. “These grants allow nationally recognized arts groups like Pig Iron and Spiral Q to continue to employ our country’s creative talent, ensuring the long-term sustainability of artists' professional  lives in these tough financial times."

Fifty million dollars in American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) grants were distributed by the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). NEA grants represented just 2 cents for every $100 in ARRA stimulus funding, which totaled $217 billion over all. Consistent with the Act, ARRA grants from the NEA can only be used for job preservation—to provide salary support for staff positions or fees for previously-engaged artists and/or contractual personnel that are critical to an organization’s artistic mission and in jeopardy of being eliminated as a result of the current economic climate.

Americans for the Arts, a national arts advocacy group, reports that nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences generate $166.2 billion dollars in economic activity, supporting 5.7 million jobs and contributing nearly $30 billion in government revenue every year.

Spiral Q is a community-based arts organization which seeks to mobilize communities, empower marginalized peoples, and illuminate the victories, frustrations and possibilities of living in Philadelphia through theater and puppetry. On a budget of $460,000, Spiral Q provides a variety of community arts programs, including a thriving arts education program for youth and a series of public parades and festivals known for their participatory and celebratory nature. Over the last 13 years, Spiral Q has established itself locally and nationally as a premier community arts organization producing works that are characterized by their capacity to inspire, their poignant treatment of social issues, and their artistic ingenuity. Spiral Q collaborates with nearly 100 community and arts organizations, agencies, and schools annually, engaging more than 5,000 individuals directly in the production and performance of public artworks.

Pig Iron Theatre Company has grown from a small, fringe performance troupe into one of the best-known groups of its kind in the Mid-Atlantic region.  Over the last 14 years they have created 23 original works, garnering praise from audiences, peers, and critics.  The New York Times hailed Pig Iron as “one of the few groups successfully taking theatre in new directions.” They’ve received a Total Theatre Award from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, a Pew Fellowship in Performance Art (for the company’s three founders, Quinn Bauriedel, Dan Rothenberg, and Dito van Reigersberg), and two OBIE Awards for Hell Meets Henry Halfway and Chekhov Lizardbrain.  Pig Iron is dedicated to cultivating the thriving experimental and ensemble performance scene in Philadelphia through workshops and collaborative projects, premiering all of their work in Philadelphia.

The Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance is the region’s premier leadership, advocacy, and umbrella marketing group for arts and culture.  With nearly 400 members, the Cultural Alliance has a proven track record for pulling groups together—dating from the 1970's, when it coordinated arts and culture activities for the nation's Bicentennial Celebration.  The Alliance helped preserve Philadelphia's nationally-recognized Percent for Art programs; teamed with the Mayor's office to re-establish the City of Philadelphia's Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy; and is working at the state and local levels to ensure that arts and culture has a strong voice in recession-driven budget and policy decisions.  This year, the Cultural Alliance led a statewide coalition to defeat a proposal to expand the state sales tax to include cultural organizations. Viewed as the “collective voice of arts and culture,” the Cultural Alliance has produced extensive research on the cultural sector and its impact on the local economy, which has been widely embraced by elected officials and business leaders.