National Press Club

Actors Equity President opposes defunding federal arts grants, cites job creation

March 16, 2017 | By Jean Gossman |

Kate Shindle

Kate Shindle

Kate Shindle, president of the Actors’ Equity Association, spoke against defunding the National Endowment for the Arts at a National Press Club Newsmaker press conference March 16.

The “intersection of art and commerce” driven by NEA grants not only provides Americans cultural enrichment, it is an “economic engine for growth and jobs,” she said.

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal cuts domestic programs, including eliminating the NEA with its $149 million annual budget. Cutting the grant-making agency means that job creation in more than 16,000 communities “is on the chopping block, and it shouldn’t be,” Shindle said.

Since 2016, Shindle has led the Actors’ Equity Association, which represents 50,000 stage actors and stage managers across the nation. She is currently touring in the Broadway production of “Fun Home.”

Shindle advised Members of Congress to keep in mind “the NEA supports the arts in your district. Eliminating the NEA means fewer jobs in your district. Americans understand that the arts are vital to our country.” She cited a December 2015 Ipsos Public Affairs poll, conducted on behalf of Americans for the Arts, that found that 55 percent of respondents felt federal arts funding to local grantees should be more than doubled, with 19 percent opposing such an increase.

In addition to actors, directors, and crew, local arts projects involve administrators, writers, concessionaires, and other workers who contribute to local economic development across the nation. Although often “we confuse working artists with celebrities,” Shindle pointed out that most working artists are simply citizens “who aspire to a solid middle-class living.”

Communities also benefit from additional tourism dollars drawn by the arts. Shindle pointed out that NEA grants not only foster job creation in the theater sector, but also fuel employment in restaurants, hospitality, retail and transportation in theater districts throughout the country. She pointed to the arts-driven revitalization of Times Square in New York, 7th Street N.W. and 14th Street N.W. in Washington, as well as arts districts in Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Durham, N.C. and Greenville, S.C.

NEA “seed money is deeply important” to funding such turnarounds that help communities become “safer, more prosperous, and more enjoyable.” Shindle added, “The arts are not a frill or a luxury or some kind of extended vanity project. The arts are part of who we are as a nation, and the arts put our nation to work.”

“Every city and community has its own unique landscape” that drives the projects seeking funding. NEA is not merely “giving money from on high,” Shindle noted. The agency requires a minimum dollar-for-dollar funding match from grantees. She added that the NEA’s annual budget actually generates $500 million in support for the arts nationwide.”

“NEA is the only game in town” for the arts in many small rural communities. Receiving NEA funding is frequently a drawing card for attracting additional funding from other sources.

“Small rural communities will be the ones that will be hit the hardest” by NEA elimination, Shindle pointed out. Funding NEA “is not a waste; this is actually very well-spent money.”

“Across the country, the arts are a key driver of economic development. Millions of Americans are employed as visual and performing artists,” Shindle said. “According to a recent report from the Commerce Department's Bureau of Economic Analysis, arts and cultural production contributed more than $704 billion to the U.S. economy and is greater than the contributions of the construction, transportation, and warehousing industries. Critically, these are also jobs that can’t be outsourced and can’t be off-shored,” she added.

[Editor's note: The BEA includes broadcasting, advertising, publishing and motion pictures, plus other activities, as part of arts and cultural production.]

Moreover, Shindle noted that the U.S. arts industry has a trade surplus, driven by the popularity of American works in other countries. ”

During her reign as Miss America 1998, Shindle advocated for AIDS prevention and relief services. In addition to her work on stage, she has appeared in major motion pictures such as “Capote.”