Prepared Statement of Dana Gioia
Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts
Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment
and Related Agencies
U.S. House of Representatives
April 1, 2008
Mr. Chairman and Distinguished Members of the Subcommittee:
I am honored to come to you again to report on the state of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and to discuss the President's budget request of $128,412,000 for Fiscal Year 2009. The request includes $101.632 million for grant-making activities, with $60.979 million committed to American Masterpieces, Challenge America and basic grant programs, and $40.653 million allocated for state and regional partnerships.
As I begin my sixth year as Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, I am proud to report that the agency is operating with high artistic standards, inclusive partnerships, improved efficiency, and unprecedented democratic reach. The fiscal year 2008 budget has allowed the agency to continue to build on the progress of recent years and reach millions more with our programs and services. The Arts Endowment has firmly regained its position as a national leader in arts and arts education.
The Arts Endowment's programs now reach into every corner of our nation -- bringing the best of the arts and arts education to the broadest and most varied audiences possible. While maintaining the highest artistic and educational standards, the agency has effectively democratized its programs, while also keeping them relevant to the needs of diverse communities. This expanded reach has been made especially possible by national initiatives such as Shakespeare in American Communities, American Masterpieces, The Big Read, Poetry Out Loud, NEA Jazz in the Schools and Operation Homecoming, that together reach thousands of communities, classrooms, and military bases -- collectively serving many millions of Americans.
Meanwhile, our grants process continues to be broadened through our Challenge America: Reaching Every Community program that helps to ensure that direct grants reach arts organizations in every Congressional district in the United States. In 2008 we will achieve for the fourth consecutive year our goal of reaching every community in the United States -- with many grants going once again to organizations that have never before received Endowment support.
Agency Goals and Accomplishments
The past five years have been a period of enormous innovation, sustained energy, and meaningful renewal at the NEA. We have made a series of significant changes that enable the agency to serve the nation more efficiently and effectively.
NEA grants are producing economic benefits throughout the country by nurturing local arts groups and enhancing local economies. With each dollar awarded by the NEA generating on average $6-$7 dollars from other sources, the NEA is triggering an investment of approximately $600 million for the arts from private donors and non-federal sources.
We welcome this opportunity to showcase the following programs that exemplify NEA's commitment to excellence, broad geographic reach, and arts education.
Challenge America: Reaching Every Community
The creation of the Challenge America program in 2001 marked a turning point in NEA history. This program built upon the agency's strengths in supporting the arts and art education, but challenged the NEA to broaden its service to Americans outside established cultural centers. The program quickly broadened the geographic distribution of grants, but it did not fully realize its original goals of reaching the entire nation. In an average year, direct grants reached only about three quarters of the United States (as measured by Congressional districts). Consequently, areas of the nation representing more than 70 million citizens received limited service from the agency.
Five years ago, we set the goal of awarding at least one direct grant to a deserving arts organization in every Congressional district in the United States. In 2005, in 2006, and again in 2007, the NEA realized 100% coverage with direct grants awarded in all 435 districts. In 2008, the NEA will again achieve its 100% coverage goal. The Arts Endowment considers the new Challenge America program one of its central achievements.
Everything the NEA does it does in partnership. This approach not only leverages federal dollars by achieving private sector matches; more important, our partnership strategy strengthens local arts organizations and builds communities. NEA's project grants develop partnerships in a direct way through an investment in arts organizations. Our national initiatives also create partnerships of enormous range and diversity -- uniting government, non-profit, and private sector organizations in support of arts and arts education across the nation.
A Big Read grant, for example, originates from the Arts Endowment but is administered by Arts Midwest, a regional arts organization. Each grant is then awarded to a local applicant (usually a library, museum, or literary organization) who uses it to build a local partnership that can easily involve over a hundred organizations, including schools, newspapers, public radio and television stations, cultural institutions, chambers of commerce, private business, and mayors' offices. Multiply these local networks across hundreds of Big Read cities in all 50 states, and one finds tens of thousands of partners all focused on celebrating literature and rebuilding literacy. Such programs help realize the initial vision of the NEA by its founders 43 years ago to be a catalyst of American creativity in every corner of the nation.
Many Americans are unfamiliar with the significant artistic and cultural achievements of our nation. They have few opportunities in school or daily life to learn about the arts or acquire skills to appreciate or participate in them. To address this challenge, the Arts Endowment established American Masterpieces: Three Centuries of Artistic Genius. It vividly embodies the goals of excellence and outreach by featuring educational programs along with presentations of artistic works themselves.
Now in its fourth year, American Masterpieces has added chamber music and presenting to visual arts, dance, choral music, musical theater, and literature. American Masterpieces grants have enabled 31 museums in 16 states to tour exhibitions to 142 cities across the nation, reaching an estimated audience of 12 million. Choral music grants have supported the creation of eight regional festivals celebrating American choral music in 12 states and the District of Columbia. Fifty-four grants are helping dance companies and college dance programs revive and tour American choreographic masterpieces nationwide. In musical theater, 13 theater companies in 18 states are reviving and touring significant American musicals. All these programs are reaching underserved rural and urban communities and introducing new generations to their rich artistic legacy.
The Big Read
Last November the NEA followed its widely discussed 2004 report Reading at Risk with a comprehensive new study To Read or Not to Read: A Question of National Consequence. This new report gathered governmental and private sector studies on reading. The data in To Read or Not to Read paint a simple, sad, and consistent portrait of reading in America today. Americans, especially teenagers and young adults, are reading less. Therefore, they read less well, and this decline in reading ability has measurably negative impact on their educational, economic, personal, and civic lives and our nation's future.
Challenged to stem the decline in reading, the NEA has expanded the literary component of American Masterpieces called The Big Read. With Mrs. Laura Bush as its honorary chair, the Endowment is uniting communities and generations through the reading and discussion of a common book. To make The Big Read work, communities are creating new partnerships involving schools, libraries, literary centers, arts councils, dance and theater companies, symphony orchestras, museums, and television and radio stations, as well as mayors' offices and chambers of commerce to broaden the reading of quality literature in every segment of the community.
In 2008, The Big Read will provide grants to cities, large and small, across all 50 states. The goal is to reach a total of 400 cities, touching every U.S. Congressional district, with the program. Widely covered in the press, The Big Read has become a national symbol of the importance of reading in a free society.
Poetry Out Loud
Meanwhile, the NEA's high school poetry recitation contest, Poetry Out Loud, is currently completing its third national year in 2008. Cosponsored by the state arts agencies, this highly popular program reaches all fifty states plus the U.S. Virgin Islands and the District of Columbia. Since it began as a pilot program in 2005, nearly 450,000 students have entered the competition. This program combines literary education and practical training in public speaking with the thrill of competition.
One unexpected development in Poetry Out Loud has been its enormous popularity with the press, which often covers this arts program as if it were local sports. The NEA takes special pride in seeing young arts participants recognized publicly in their own communities on a par with local star athletes.
Shakespeare in American Communities
The NEA's Shakespeare program is now in its fifth year with Shakespeare for a New Generation, a program that focuses on providing American students an opportunity to see a live professional performance of Shakespeare. By the end of 2008, some 175 grants will have been awarded for 77 theater companies to bring new productions of Shakespeare to more than 2,300 communities in mostly small and mid-sized cities, including18 military bases. Nearly 2,000 actors have performed for 1.2 million students attending 3,600 middle and high schools.
The award-winning NEA Shakespeare in American Communities classroom toolkit has now been distributed free to 55,000 schools (32% of which are located in rural communities) reaching 20 million students. The NEA's Shakespeare program has reached deeply into all 50 states with an overwhelmingly positive response from teachers and students alike.
NEA Jazz in the Schools
The Arts Endowment's long-standing support of jazz was broadened in 2006 with the NEA Jazz in the Schools program, an engaging and substantive introduction to jazz created for high schools. Developed with Jazz at Lincoln Center, an academic tool-kit, made available in January 2006, proved so popular that every kit was quickly requested by teachers across the U.S. The NEA's recent budget increase allowed us to create more kits to meet thousands of unfilled backorders. The NEA Jazz in the Schools kit is now used by over 11,000 teachers in 8,100 schools across all fifty states.
Often used by teachers during Black History Month, as well as throughout the year, the program reaches some 5.6 million students, introducing students to jazz as a distinctively American art form as well as a powerful and positive force in African-American social history. This educational program was added while the agency maintained all of its NEA Jazz Masters touring, radio, and awards programs.
Operation Homecoming and Other Programs for the Military
The NEA concluded the first phase of its historic Operation Homecoming program last year. Supported by The Boeing Company, the program brought 55 writing workshops to U.S. military bases in five countries, involving 6,000 troops and their spouses. The program climaxed with the publication of wartime writing by U.S. troops in The New Yorker and a volume by Random House, as well as the production of two films, one of which became a finalist for the 2008 Academy Award for best full-length documentary.
The program was so meaningful to U.S. troops that we have now initiated a second phase focusing on the servicemen and servicewomen most deeply affected by the war. Phase II of Operation Homecoming will sponsor extended writing workshops led by noted American authors in 25 Veterans Administration and Department of Defense medical facilities as well as V.A. centers across the nation.
When I came to the NEA in 2003, I was dismayed to learn how little was done in international cultural exchange. Over the past few years, the NEA has focused on developing several programs that showcase America's artistic creativity and excellence abroad. We now provide assistance to U.S. music and dance ensembles invited to perform in international festivals, and we have joined with the Open World Leadership Program to support short-term residencies for Russian artists and arts administrators with U.S. arts groups.
As a partner in the State Department's Global Cultural Initiative launched in 2006, the NEA has begun a series of international literary exchanges with Russia, Mexico, Egypt, Pakistan, and other nations. The State Department has recognized the potential of The Big Read to serve as an effective vehicle for cultural diplomacy. Big Read programs have now been initiated as mutual cultural exchanges between the U.S. and Russia, Egypt, and Mexico. American novels are featured in civic reading programs in those nations while classics of Russian, Egyptian, and Mexican fiction have become part of the U.S. domestic program. These literary exchanges also provide the basis for exciting human exchanges as groups of writers, teachers, and librarians visit the host cities in each nation.
Looking to the Future
At least two major challenges face the NEA and the citizens it serves. The first is the diminished state of arts education in the nation's schools. There is now an entire generation of young Americans who have not had the arts play a significant role in their intellectual and personal development. This trend is not merely a cultural matter but a social and economic one. As these young men and women enter the new global economy of the twenty-first century, many of them will not have had opportunities to develop the skills of innovation and creativity they need to succeed. American schools need help to better realize the full human potential of their students. While we are proud of our current arts education programs, we are also deeply conscious of the millions of students, especially in the earlier grades, whom we do not reach at all.
The second challenge speaks to an even broader issue, namely America's place in the world. The United States needs to expand its cultural exchanges with other nations. This investment in cultural diplomacy would not only benefit American artists by providing them with greater opportunities, but more important, it would help the nation itself more effectively communicate with the rest of the world in ways that transcend political and economic issues. The arts have the potential to represent the best aspects of a free and diverse democracy in a way that speaks to the hearts and minds of people everywhere. It would be an enormous missed opportunity if the United States did not use the creativity of its own people in addressing the rest of the planet.
As we contemplate the future of the National Endowment for the Arts, we remain confident in the continuing relevance of our mission to bring the best of the arts -- new and established -- to all Americans. The Arts Endowment's goal is to enrich the civic life of the nation by making the fruits of creativity truly available throughout the United States. In a dynamic nation with a growing and diverse population, this goal will remain a constant challenge, but a great nation deserves great art.
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