Many of you received the news last week that the Trump administration released a budget resolution that includes the elimination of 19 federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Dance Exchange received this devastating news in the midst of our work on a project that brings together the Great Smoky Mountain National Park, Cherokee elders and leaders, and local artists in North Carolina. The project, Off-site/Insight: Stories from the Great Smoky Mountains, is supported by the NEA’s Imagine Our Parks, an initiative that has been jointly celebrating the 50th anniversary of the NEA in 2015 and the centennial anniversary of the National Park Service (NPS) in 2016. Receiving this news in the midst of our work supported by the NEA and the NPS leaves us with a sense of urgency to do all we can to further protect these two agencies and the value of our nation’s cultural and natural treasures.
The opportunity provided by the NEA to work alongside Cherokee leaders, park educators, local artists, and students, reminds us that even though we may live our lives within a few short miles of each other, there can be significant barriers that prevent us from coming together to work towards a better future. By engaging in creative practices and inquiry, we brought together, for the first time, collaborators across cultural and generational differences to meet and listen to each other’s stories and to one another’s history and relationship to the park land. The conversations on this day were not easy, and the artmaking that grew from them turned us towards difficult stories of both erasure and preservation on the land. Though challenging, this way of being together across difference and experience leaves us more equipped to build a future that benefits from the efforts of contending with such complexity.
The arts are one of the most powerful tools we have to face our history as a nation and to see the current conditions of our country with a nuanced perspective, with empathy and imagination. They offer us a vivid and visceral understanding of our world that continually orients our society towards justice, equity, and creative change in our communities. This way of showing up in our world – whole, present, and connected– is a threat to the Trump administration, which seeks to limit the potential of such power to imagine and create the world we want to live in, one that feeds a healthy democracy for all people.
Our friends at Dance USA and Americans for the Arts, two national support organizations for not-for-profit arts, have resources and instructions for steps you can take to make a difference.
I urge you to support the continued cultivation of this creative power by standing up for the arts and adding your voice to the millions advocating across our country for the continued funding of the NEA.
Deepest thanks for your attention, as well as for your action in adding your voice in support of the value of the arts in the United States.
The start of the National Endowment for the Arts in 1965 launched a monumental period of growth and expansion for many arts organizations across the US, including Dance Exchange. NEA funding is critical in strengthening the ecosystem of arts in this country as it helps countless organizations to leverage additional support from state governments, generous individuals and foundations, and corporations. The NEA has been a pillar of financial support for Dance Exchange since our founding in 1976, and has afforded us opportunities such as: establishing our home studios in Takoma Park, MD; embarking on a 15-city community creation tour for the Hallelujah Project; formalizing our Dance Exchange Toolbox, which continues to evolve through our alumni network and our Organizing Artists for Change initiative; allowing DX to focus on advancing a creative placemaking project in our home community of Takoma Park through New Hampshire Avenue: This Is a Place To…; and supporting the creation of groundbreaking collaborations between scientists and artists in Liz Lerman’s Ferocious Beauty: Genome, The Matter of Origins, and Cassie Meador’s Moving Field Guide, How To Lose a Mountain and most recently Off-site/Insight: Stories from the Great Smoky Mountains. Because of the unwavering support of the NEA, Dance Exchange has been able to collaborate with communities and people of all ages, backgrounds, and abilities to catalyze the change we want to see in the world and to advance the questions: Who Gets To Dance? Where is the Dance Happening? What is the Dancing About? Why Does it Matter?
We thank the NEA and all the individuals who have and continue to serve and support our country through your agency. Your impact strengthens the ability of our county’s citizens to imagine the world we want to live in – one that feeds a healthy democracy for all people.