These 10 great cultural works wouldn’t have happened without public funding

These 10 great cultural works wouldn’t have happened without public funding

1 hour ago

President Trump’s proposed budget plan has sent shock-waves throughout the country’s arts community.

Whoopie Goldberg in ‘The Color Purple.”‘


Why? It calls for the elimination of funding for four independent cultural agencies — the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Those agencies are crucial to organizations such as PBS, NPR, and big and small museums around the country.

Nothing will change for the endowments or other agencies immediately. And the budget still needs to make its way through Congress for approval. So changes are likely.

Meanwhile, we know this much: The following major works and artists would have been left behind without the support of arts foundations.

1. ‘The Color Purple’

Since 1967, the Arts Endowment has awarded 3,400 creative writing fellowships worth $45 million, resulting in many of the most acclaimed novels of contemporary literature, including Alice Walker’s The Color Purple, which was later adapted into an Oscar-nominated film directed by Steven Spielberg, and a Tony award-winning Broadway play.

Other works aided by the Arts Endowment’s fellowships: Jeffrey Eugenides’s Middlesex, Oscar Hijuelos’s The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love, William Kennedy’s Ironweed, and Bobbie Ann Mason’s In Country.

The infamous Cookie Monster.

Eileen Blass, USA TODAY, USA TODAY Job # 130075

2. ‘Sesame Street’

Thanks to partial government funding, the beloved children’s show has been broadcast into homes for free on PBS for more than 45 years. Sesame Street no longer receives direct government funding (last year Sesame Workshop, the non-profit which runs the show, signed a deal with HBO, with new episodes continuing to run on PBS after a nine-month window).

PBS continues to broadcast a healthy kids block with shows like Bob the Builder and Arthur. “The cost of public broadcasting is small, only $1.35 per citizen per year, and the benefits are tangible: increasing school readiness for kids 2-8, support for teachers and homeschoolers, lifelong learning, public safety communications and civil discourse,” PBS president Paula Kerger said Thursday.

3. The King Tut exhibit

The 1976 blockbuster museum exhibit that sent the lavish sarcophagus of King Tutankhamum, the boy pharaoh of ancient Egypt, to the United States on a six-city tour is now legend. The exhibit of the contents of King Tut’s tomb, discovered in the early 20th century thousands of years after he was interred, was seen more than 6 million people, and it was made possible with help from a $300,000 NEH grant.

In this Feb. 15, 2010 photo, tourists crowd around the golden mask of King Tutankhamun at the Egyptian museum in Cairo.

Amr Nabil, AP, AP

4. Hit Broadway plays like ‘Rent’

Did you know that the NEA has provided early and critical funding for 18 Tony Award-winning plays and 15 Tony award-winning musicals? Those hits include Fences, Annie, A Chorus Line, Rent, War Horse, Into the Woods, Angels in America, Rent and Lin-Manuel Miranda’s pre-Hamilton hit, In the Heights.

The NEA helped bring Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first musical ‘In the Heights’ to the stage.

Joan Marcus

5. ‘Driving Miss Daisy’

The Pulitzer Prize-winning 1987 play was originally funded by a $10,000 grant from the NEA to playwright Alfred Uhry. The 1990 film, starring Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy and Dan Aykroyd, won four Oscars in 1990, including best picture.

Visitors to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial are reflected in its polished stone surface.

Jasper Colt for USA TODAY, For USA TODAY Job # 133503

6. The Vietnam Veterans Memorial

In 1981, a 21-year-old Yale student, Maya Lin, won a NEA-supported design competition for the powerful Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, DC. Her stark, V-shaped design remains the second most-visited memorial in Washington, after the Lincoln Memorial.

7. ‘A Confederacy of Dunces’ 

John Kennedy Toole’s tragicomic novel A Confederacy of Dunces was still a manuscript a decade after his death, until Toole’s mother, having been turned down by numerous publishers, lobbied a Loyola University New Orleans professor to read it. The professor recommended it for publication to the Louisiana State University Press, which applied to the Arts Endowment for a grant to help with the publishing costs. They received a grant of $3,500, and the novel was finally published in 1980. In 1981, Toole was posthumously awarded the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Hilary Swank accepts her best actress Oscar in 2005.

Robert Hanashiro, USAT

8. Indie film hits like ‘Reservoir Dogs’

The NEA – through its longtime grants to the nonprofit Sundance Institute, which hosts Labs that provide creative support and other resources to independent artists – has supported films including Quentin Tarantino’s  Reservoir Dogs, Boys Don’t Cry (which won Hilary Swank a best actress Oscar), Beasts of the Southern Wild (nominated for four Oscars),Fruitvale Station (which catapulted Creed star Michael B. Jordan to fame), and Damien Chazelle’s Whiplash, which preceded his Oscar-winning film, La La Land.

9. Big digs

If you’ve visited Jamestown, you’ve seen remains dug up with help by the National Endowment for Humanities. NEH grants helped pay for the 1994 rediscovery of the site of Jamestown, the 2016 discovery of the original Plymouth, Mass. settlement, the 1990s archaeological exploration of Troy, and the 1995 examination of the mummified ‘Ice Maiden” remains found in the mountains of southern Peru. 

Overall the NEH has awarded more than 1,400 grants to archaeological projects worldwide. The entire NEH budget in 2016 was $148 million, or about one three-thousandth of one percent of the federal budget.

A shot from AFI alum Darren Aronofsky’s 2010 film, ‘Black Swan.’

Niko Tavernise, Fox Searchlight Pictures,

10. Major film directors, from Terrence Malick to Darren Aronofsky 

Many of today’s biggest names in Hollywood got their start at the American Film Institute, which was founded in 1967 on the recommendation of the NEA to create a national arts organization to train filmmakers and preserve America’s vanishing film heritage. Who found their way into the industry at AFI? Terrence Malick, who graduated in 1969 and went on to create The Thin Red Line and Tree of Life; Darren Aronofsky, who graduated in 1992 and would go on to direct Black Swan and The Wrestler; and David Lynch, who wrote and directed The Elephant Man. Initial funding for AFI came from the NEA, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Ford Foundation.

Also in 1974, AFI launched its Conservatory Directing Workshop for Women, which has welcomed Maya Angelou, Ellen Burstyn and Anne Bancroft, plus more recent graduates including Lesli Linka Gatter (showrunner for Homeland) and Sarah Gertrude Shapiro (co-creator of unREAL).

Contributing: Maria Puente, Robert Bianco, Carly Mallenbaum

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