Assessing the First Year of an Unconditional Presidency, moderated by Felicia Knight, President, The Knight Canney Group.
Knight Canney Group President Felicia Knight moderates the 2017 Cohen Lecture. Ambassador Marc Grossman, Secretary Andrew Card, and Secretary William Cohen gave insightful, cogent, and focused assessments of world events through the lens of this "unconventional presidency."
We are living in an age of rage, perpetrated by both ends of the political spectrum, and during which, we are about to launch another battle over the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Entrenched interest have trampled upon and fought over these agencies more than The Ardennes.
It’s hard to believe this nation’s cultural agencies were born from a united, bi-partisan vision; established not to solve a problem, but to help us create, expand, and care for our national patrimony. Every time a fortification of bipartisan support is built to ensure their existence, it is breached by those bent on finding a boogeyman, a fundraising mechanism, a wedge issue, or an Internet meme that can rally the crowd.
It’s easy to demonize federal agencies. They’re just more bureaucracy, filled with listless civil servants indifferent to taxpayer need, right? But what if the clichés are wrong? What if the agencies on the chopping block are actually bare bones, efficiently run, professionally staffed sources of transformative and catalytic funding that enhances communities and changes lives?
Here’s another “what if.” What if we stopped disparaging and dismissing public institutions that deserve celebration and investment instead?
For five years I served as Communications Director for the National Endowment for the Arts. Since leaving the NEA I have served on several NEA grant review panels. I chair an organization that receives NEA support. I have intimate, first-hand knowledge of how it works, and here’s what I know:
The federal employees at the NEA come to work every day dedicated to responsibly distributing funding to regional, state, and local arts agencies—the ones that contribute culturally and economically to our communities.
In the last five years, arts organizations in Maine received more than $5.4 million dollars in NEA funding. Arts organizations in Portland received just under a half million dollars. The Maine Arts Commission received more than $3.6 million—funding that was then re-granted to local arts organizations around the state. The catalytic effect of these dollars is indisputable.
Portland Ovations, a stalwart of Maine’s cultural community, and whose board I chair, received $155,000 in NEA funding during the last five years. In that time, Ovations has contributed $12.5 million to the greater Portland economy. That’s just one non-profit arts organization. Other Portland-area entities funded directly by the NEA include:
- City of Portland Public Art Committee
- Creative Portland
- Portland Symphony Orchestra
- PORT Opera
- Portland Stage Company
- The Telling Room
- Terra Moto Inc.
- University of Southern Maine
The NEA’s annual appropriation is only .004 percent of the federal budget. Defunding the NEA is not about the money. It’s about the symbolism.
There remains a segment of our citizenry—and political establishment—that is highly skeptical of any pronouncement that issues from the arts community concerning the necessity of public funding for art. It serves no purpose to debate why this is so, to argue over whether this skepticism is at all justifiable. It’s enough to recognize this distrust is out there, and it’s not uncommon for it to be held by people not necessarily ill disposed to the arts. Indeed, they may well be ardent supporters.
Within this segment are two camps, those who object to federal funding for the arts because they believe the non-profit arts should be left to sink or swim in the marketplace, and those who object because they believe that the NEA (and NEH) symbolize the reign of the elites over “the rest of us” at the taxpayer expense of all of us.
To both camps, defunding the NEA “sends a message.” Indeed, it does.
To the former argument, I offer language that Congress included in its “Declaration of Purpose” that accompanied the legislation authorizing the NEA and NEH: “While no government can call a great artist or scholar into existence, it is necessary and appropriate for the federal government to help create and sustain not only a climate encouraging freedom of thought, imagination, and inquiry, but also the material conditions facilitating the release of this creative talent.” Lifting non-profit arts from the market place is about understanding value versus price.
To the latter argument I offer the millions of children across the country and the thousands here in Maine who benefit from NEA supported arts and arts education programs. When Merrill Auditorium is filled with students clutching their free copy of a new book and enjoying their very first live performance at Portland Ovations or who realize they love music when hearing the Portland Symphony; when refugee children record their thoughts in a book at The Telling Room—in short, when lives are transformed by art, there is nothing elitist about it. Funding the NEA may be the most populist thing the federal government does, by making art accessible to all the people.
It’s disheartening to be fighting this battle again, especially when it’s presented as a false choice: pay for infrastructure and defense or pay for art. I worked at the Arts Endowment when a Republican president found a way to do both and enthusiastically signed into law a $21.1 million dollar increase for both the NEA and the NEH.
Despite the current climate in Washington, it’s my hope that Congress resists erroneous symbolism, and instead embraces the transformative power of art and our government’s rightful role in supporting it.
Felicia K. Knight is President of The Knight Canney Group, served as Communications Director for the NEA from 2003 – 2008 under Chairman Dana Gioia, and is President of the board of directors for Portland Ovations.
NOVEMBER REFERENDUM QUESTION ON TAX FAIRNESS AND FAIR FUNDING OF PUBLIC EDUCATION IS NOW QUESTION #2
Now that Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has decided the numerical order of this November’s ballot referenda, Stand Up for Students is moving full speed ahead in urging Mainers to “Vote Yes on Question 2.”
Maine drops 5 places from last year to 17th in the overall rankings,
15th in education rankings
AUGUSTA, ME | June 21, 2016 – Stand Up for Students, the campaign working to bring tax fairness and equal educational opportunity to all Maine students is urging Mainers to look at the latest figures for Maine in the annual Kids Count Data Book, released by the Annie E. Casey Foundation.
Nationally, many states are doing better, thanks to federal and state programs aimed at increasing child wellbeing. Maine is not one of them. As illustrated on Maine Children’s Alliance website, of the top five states, Minnesota, Massachusetts, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Connecticut, three of them are in New England. (And Vermont is in the top 10.)
Maine ranks 17th overall, falling five places from last year. The overall rank is a composite index derived from the combined data across the four domains: (1) Economic Well-Being, (2) Education, (3) Health and (4) Family and Community.
Maine places 15th in the nation in education rankings, 24th in 4th grade reading scores and 18th in 8th grade math scores. Perhaps worst of all, Maine ranks 26th in the nation in young children not attending school.
“We know young children benefit from high-quality pre-K programs and research has consistently told us that pre-K programs help kids and save society money in the long run, but Maine has fallen woefully behind other nearby states in the number of kids enrolled in such programs,” said John Kosinski, Campaign Manager for Stand Up for Students. “This campaign will provide schools the resources they need to start or expand pre-K programs for more students.”
(207) 831 5676
Leaders convene on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. to support
Innovation: An American Imperative
WASHINGTON, DC | OCTOBER 20, 2015 – Now is not the time for the United States to rest on its past successes as an international leader in advancements in science, technology, engineering, and innovation. That is the message that four industry leaders and key members of Congress delivered today at a public symposium on Capitol Hill. Led by Norman Augustine, retired CEO of Lockheed Martin; Jeannette M. Wing, Corporate Vice President, Microsoft Research; Roger M. Perlmutter, Executive Vice President, Merck &Co., Inc., and President, Merck Research Labs; and John D. Evans, Vice President, International Science and Technology, Lockheed Martin, all took up the call to action to compel the federal government to return to consistent, sustainable funding for basic research, and recommit to restoring the United States as a leader in innovation. The speakers urged support for the goals and policies set forth in the American Academy of Arts and Sciences report, Restoring the Foundation: The Vital Role of Research in Preserving the American Dream. That report, in turn, led to the creation of Innovation: An American Imperative, a call to action signed by ten CEOs and chairpersons, plus more than 300 organizations, colleges and universities, businesses, and nonprofits from across all 50 states. Each expressed their belief in the importance of federal funding for basic research to America’s future productivity, prosperity, and strength. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tennessee), Chris Coons (D-Delaware), and Gary Peters (D-Michigan), and Representative Randy Hultgren (R-Illinois 14th) spoke prior to the symposium. “The U.S. is now in 10th place in in R&D investment among Organisation for Economic Co-operation nations as a percentage of gross domestic product,” said Augustine, who also is co-chair of the Restoring the Foundation commission. “At this pace, China will surpass the United States in R&D intensity in about eight years. Do we really want to watch that play out?” Among the policies cited today that would help America retain its position of leadership are:
- End sequestration’s deep cuts to federal investments in R&D
- Make permanent a strengthened federal R&D tax credit
- Improve student achievement in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM)
- Reform U.S. visa policy
- Streamline or eliminate costly and inefficient regulations
- Reaffirm merit-based peer review
- Stimulate further improvements in advanced manufacturing
Today’s event was sponsored by the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of American Universities, the Association of Public and Land-grant Universities, Battelle, the Coalition for National Science Funding, the Coalition for National Security Research, the Council on Competitiveness, the Energy Sciences Coalition, the Task Force on American Innovation, The Science Coalition, and United for Medical Research.