When folk artists die, their craft can be lost. To make sure their work is preserved, Lisa Higgins, director of the Missouri Folk Arts Program at the University of Missouri in Columbia, helps preserve those techniques. That way, when an artist dies, it’s not the end of their expertise.
“There’s a bit of joy in there also, it’s bittersweet, to know that through the program they have been able to sit down and pass that tradition onto someone else who’s invested in it and plans to carry it on,” Higgins said.
That program could be in jeopardy if President Donald Trump's administration cuts funding to the National Endowment for the Arts.
The Folk Arts Program preserves traditional river fishing methods in southern Missouri, unique fiddle techniques, the heritage of western-style boot-making, and more by helping people learn these crafts from life-long practitioners. The work is sustained in part through the National Endowment for the Arts and the Missouri Arts Council, both of which may be significantly defunded as the result of Trump’s proposed 2018 budget. The Missouri Arts Council stands to lose approximately 13 percent — $729,000 in 2017 — of its annual budget if the Trump administration’s proposed budget is approved by Congress.
Missouri's arts programs benefit from those federal funds. MAC’s Executive Director Michael Donovan said any cuts would have a direct result on the state’s largest funder of arts programming in rural and underserved communities.
Last week, Donovan met with the Senate budget committee to make a case for supporting the Missouri Arts Council and took questions from the panel.
He tried to stress one point: Cutting funds to the National Endowment for the Arts and the Missouri Arts Council would affect more people in the arts community than most people might think.
“Everybody would be affected,” Donovan said. “Even if it’s not federal money that’s directly supporting a project, it’s money that allows us to free up state money for that [project]. The money we’d have left would be severely constrained.”
The point Donovan makes is that the loss of federal funds will force MAC to cover projects affected by NEA defunding with money intended to go elsewhere.
Losing the NEA would cut funding to programs like Poetry Out Loud and the Folk Arts Program. Much of the federal money is integrated into other programs, including educational work in rural or underserved communities, like MAC’s recent initiative to produce cross curriculum programs that integrate the arts into math and science classes.
Local scholars, working in conjunction with Higgin’s Folk Arts Program to document and preserve the state’s cultural heritage, wouldn’t have access to the $20,000 allocated to their work by MAC.
Additionally, Donovan says the potential loss could extend past the arts, citing NEA statistics.
“One of the values of having the arts in the community is that we know that there’s an over billion dollar impact of direct economic spending and culture — nonprofit culture — alone, in the state,” Donovan said.
On paper, the Missouri Arts Council stands to collect 60 percent of the non-resident arts and entertainment tax applied throughout the state — approximately $20 million. However, that money is up for appropriation with each year’s budget, and much of it gets redirected to other areas within the state.
This year Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens allocated $4.8 million for the Missouri Arts Council. That amount has been allocated each year since 2014. Although the state’s budget has yet to be approved, this line item was approved by both the House and Senate appropriations committees, and will likely be ratified.
Donovan said he was happy to get that much from the state, given current funding issues. But more money would always be appreciated, and a lot remains at stake with the potential loss of NEA funding, he said.
“I know that if we had additional funds, that we would make a strong case for getting the arts in every community and making sure the arts generates a better quality of life to residents, increases economic vitality, and a stronger educational system, as well,” Donovan said.
Missouri Arts Council funds are allocated in part by a citizen advisory panel, pulled from local cultural influencers and experts, who review and approve applications for funding.
Donovan says that the loss of the NEA might endanger the Missouri’s participation in the Poetry Out Loud program but he said the council would work to try and support their other initiatives as well as possible, without losing them completely. The same goes for the Missouri Folk Arts Program. They would try to carry on with the mission of keeping the arts alive.
Follow Willis on Twitter: @WillisRArnold