Celebrating Access to the Arts

The outside of the Culture Center in Charleston, West Virginia

The West Virginia Culture Center and State Museum in Charleston will host the June 2018 National Council on the Arts meeting. Photo by J. Stephen Conn, flickr.com

As senior deputy chairman and now acting chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, a priority of mine has been to ensure that hard-earned tax dollars are spent judiciously on behalf of the American people. Access to the arts for all Americans is a core principle of the NEA. The majority of our grants go to small and medium-sized organizations, 30 percent and 35 percent respectively. A significant percentage of grants fund programs in high-poverty communities and reach underserved populations, including veterans as well as people with disabilities and people in institutions. Furthermore, close to 25 percent of NEA grants go to smaller towns and cities across the United States.

The NEA works to give people across America the opportunity to participate in and experience the arts. Our funding is project-based and goes to thousands of nonprofits each year, and along with partnerships, special arts initiatives, research, and other support, the NEA contributes to the vitality of our neighborhoods, students and schools, workplaces, and culture. The NEA is the only funder, public or private, that provides access to the arts in all 435 congressional districts, in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and U.S. territories.

As part of our efforts to further bring the NEA’s work to the American people, we have hosted the past several public meetings of the National Council on the Arts at various locations outside our office. Last October, we convened in the U.S. Senate, which allowed easy access by Senators and Representatives to come and report on the important work we are doing in their jurisdictions. In March, we convened at Arena Stage, a longtime NEA grantee that has served as one of DC’s cultural lodestones since opening its doors in 1950. And this week, we will take the meeting out of DC by convening at the State Museum in Charleston, West Virginia.

By bringing our National Council meetings to different venues, we are inviting the public to more fully participate in our grantmaking process. At the same time, it allows our National Council members to see firsthand the impact of the grants they approve, including allocations to state and regional partners such as the West Virginia Department of Arts, Culture and History. State arts agencies and regional arts organizations are among our most important partners, as they best understand the unique needs and cultures of their communities.

While in West Virginia, we expect to visit the Huntington Museum of Art, the beautiful historic Keith-Albee Theatre, and the Clay Center for the Arts and Sciences. Exploring the rich and diverse West Virginia arts community will connect us with the value of our own work in a way that reading grant reports can never do. We will see firsthand how NEA-funded arts projects have touched and even transformed lives.

To that end, I want to thank Randall Reid-Smith and his team at the Department of Arts, Culture and History for making arrangements for our visit. We look forward to taking in the beauty of wild, wonderful West Virginia.