Friday, January 27, 2017

The National Endowment for the Arts and Musicians

Musicians, it goes without saying, often have a deep appreciation for the arts. After all, it's how we make our living! But it goes deeper than that. I know that many people will never have the amazing feeling of being on stage playing a Beethoven symphony, or giving the premiere of a piece by a living composer. But many people love and appreciate art music in its many forms, and the arts, or the lack of them, can have a profound effect on our country. Cutting funding for them will only deepen the divide between rich and poor, or urban and rural, and it will impoverish our national culture.

The sad truth is that many of the projects, concerts, and organizations supported by the National Endowment for the Arts benefit people in areas that otherwise can't afford or support them. Large urban centers like New York or Chicago often have enough wealthy patrons and well-established audiences to support organizations like the New York Philharmonic or the Metropolitan Opera. But tiny towns in the South or the Midwest rarely have the opportunity to enjoy concerts of any kind without government support. The Chamber Music Rural Residencies Program, for example, has helped bring chamber music ensembles like string quartets to rural communities, giving local people a chance to experience live music they've never heard before while helping young professional musicians establish their careers. Likewise, many small community orchestras are supported in part through NEA grants. These orchestras allow many semi-professional or amateur musicians the opportunity to play music they love for their communities.

Furthermore, while billionaires can afford tickets to an concert they want to attend, NEA programs help bring music to people who can't afford tickets. One program will have members of the Philadelphia orchestra work with music therapists to develop music therapy programs for homeless people, which helps them develop coping skills. The NEA-supported Music and Memory program helps bring music to residents of nursing homes. The music helps residents with dementia to reconnect with their memories through music, as well as bringing them pleasure and helping them engage and socialize. Art and music programs for disadvantaged children have been shown to reduce stress and help children develop creativity as well as social and emotional skills. These kinds of programs help bring music to people who need the beauty, creativity, and vitality it offers.

 Music should belong to everyone, not just wealthy enclaves in large cities. The power and joy of music and art can build communities and connect people to each other. But without funding for the NEA, many vital programs that bring music to less fortunate people, from disadvantaged children to nursing home residents, are at risk. That's something that should concern all musicians.

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