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Is Indy arts and culture on the chopping block?

Indy arts organizations speak out about Trump's potential defunding of the NEA and NEH


The International Marketplace Coalition's executive director Mary Clark
  • The International Marketplace Coalition's executive director Mary Clark

Donald Trump's interest in the arts might not extend much beyond his liking of the Andrew Jackson portrait in the Oval Office or his taste for late-Baroque style furniture — an interest shared with Turkey's president Recep Tayyip Erdoan. Trump seems to have an interest in breaking the furniture, as it were.

As reported in The Hill on Jan 19, the Trump administration's proposed changes for shrinking the federal government include zeroing out both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and privatizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. As a result of such reports, and as a result of Trump's recent executive actions on immigration, cultural and arts organizations in Indianapolis are now being forced to consider what Trump means for their work and their audiences.

These proposed changes are not welcome news for Indiana Humanities, which receives NEH funding and uses it to fund fairs and festivals and small town libraries across the state.

"Although Indiana Humanities receives support from individuals, corporations, and foundations, we depend on funding from the NEH to carry out our work," wrote Indiana Humanities President and CEO Keira Amstutz in a Feb. 2 email urging recipients to advocate on behalf of the NEH and the NEA. Norman Burns, president and CEO of Conner Prairie, wrote a similar letter on Feb 7, noting the $900,000 in federal funds that the outdoor history museum has received since 2010.

Another local organization that has received federal funding — and that could presumably be cut off at the knees by the removal of the NEA — is the Arts Council of Indianapolis, which initially received NEA funding for its Arts Journalism Fellowship program. The nonprofit arts organization Big Car Collective has also received NEA funding.

"Cutting funding for the arts has been a trend, a long time coming, since the Reagan era," said Big Car curator Shauta Marsh. "I think great art will come out of this time that we're getting ready to enter into. But I also think... it won't be easy for artists."

NEA funding has also helped the Harrison Center for the Arts achieve its goals, according to executive director Joanna Beatty Taft.

"In 2016, we received $105,000 from the NEA," said Taft. "We have a $75,000 grant that we use to hire actors and set designers for our Pre-Enactment Theatre which is something we'll be doing in 2017. And then we have two other grants. One is a public art grant for Quincy Owens to do some public art on 16th Street. ... So all this money funds artists in our community."

Cuts in funding aren't the only threat to cultural and arts nonprofits — as well as the people that benefit from them — posed by the Trump administration. There are also his immigration orders to consider, and stepped up enforcement against the undocumented. These actions might not only have an impact on art and cultural programing but on the wider economy as well.

This threat was highlighted by a Jan. 27 art exhibit in Lafayette Square Mall, hosted by the International Marketplace Coalition (IMC), featuring work by recent immigrants. While checking out watercolor landscapes in traditional Chinese style and traditional Senegalese batiks, patrons sampled food supplied by local Indian and Middle Eastern restaurants.

The IMC's mission is to encourage economic development and growth on Indy's northwest side, growth that is largely dependant on entrepreneurship by recent immigrants. There are 88 ethnic restaurants and numerous markets that can be found in close proximity to Lafayette Square. This entrepreneurial activity has lifted up the northwest side's economy and reduced crime, according to Mary Clark, IMC's executive director.

The day of the exhibition just so happened to be the day of Trump's executive order barring immigrants from seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S.

But Trump's executive order, now blocked by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, won't stifle artistic and economic activity on the west side, if IMC executive director Mary Clark has her way.

"So we like to say that we're shrinking the globe and creating the village over here on the west side of Indianapolis," said Clark at the exhibition kickoff. "This is who we are. And so we've found a way to embrace it, our community has embraced it. And we just need everybody to reach out and touch somebody and say, you know what? This is Indianapolis.This is Indiana. This is the USA."


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