After Harvey, who preserves our culture?

The organized arts and humanities generally don’t save lives directly during emergency situations. Yet they save our culture — our shared memory — over the long run. Here are some ways the state and national communities are responding to Harvey and where the help will be most needed.

The Rockport Center for the Arts after Hurricane Harvey. Contributed by Rockport Center for the Arts

The National Endowment for the Humanities has pledged $1 million to cultural groups hurt by Harvey.

The National Endowment for the Arts is working with the Texas Commission on the Arts to assess the situation. NEA Chairwoman Jane Chu: “As the current situation stabilizes, the NEA is prepared to direct additional funds to these state arts agencies for re-granting to affected organizations, as we have done in the past.”

The Texas Library Association and Texas State Library and Archives Commission are working to coordinate a response for the affected library community.

While some smaller arts facilities have been devastated on the coast (see image from Rockport), the massive Houston Theatre District has sustained enormous damage, as it has in previous storms (much of it was built underground not far from Buffalo Bayou).

At the Alley Theatre, the small Neuhaus Theatre and its lobby were flooded. The same spaces were severely beat up during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.

The Wortham Theatre Center, where Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet perform, took water on the Brown Theatre stage and out front of the house. The basement with its costume and prop storage, however, was totally flooded.

On the other hand, the Hobby Center and Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, came off relatively unscathed, although the parking garages were inundated.

Heidi Marquez Smith is new exec at Texas Cultural Trust

The former head of the Texas Book Festival will now lead the Texas Cultural Trust.

Heidi Marquez Smith takes over as executive director at the statewide arts advocacy group after the departure of Jennifer Ransom Rice. 

Heidi Marquez Smith is the new boss at Texas Cultural Trust. Contributed

“As a long-time, passionate advocate for literacy and the arts, I am thrilled to be part of an organization that promotes the vital role of the arts in education and actively supports our state’s many talented artists and educators,” Marquez Smith says. “I look forward to advancing the work of the Trust to build awareness of the quantifiable impact of art in the classroom and the Texas economy, and the important role of the arts in building a competitive workforce for the future of our state.”

Most recently a consultant with her own firm, Marquez Smith is actively involved in the leadership of the Texas Lyceum, St. David’s FoundationDell Children’s Trust and Texas Book Festival. She also volunteers at Eanes Elementary School, Hill Country Middle School, Eanes Education FoundationPop-Up Birthday, LBJ Presidential Library and the city of Rollingwood.

Perhaps most impressively, she served as Special Assistant to the President for Cabinet Liaison under President George W. Bush.

It takes quite a diplomat to run the Trust, which hands out the Texas Medal of Arts in a grand biennial ceremony; directly promotes arts education; and meanwhile attempts to convince Texas legislators to support dollars for the arts. Recently, that august body reduced funding by 28 percent, which means that soon only $6 million will be spent by the state each year on the arts. By way of contrast, the city of Austin alone spends $12 million.

IN-DEPTH: Legislature cuts Texas arts funding 28 percent.

NEA dispatches almost $500,000 to Austin arts

The National Endowment for the Arts today announced almost $83 million in grants nationwide.

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The NEA has awarded $20,000 to Collide Arts to remount “Traffic Jam.” Contributed

Of that, $2.5 million went to Texas. Almost $1 million of that was given to the Texas Commission on the Arts to pass along to artists and arts groups statewide. In fact, of the $83 million that the NEA handed out today, almost $51 million went to its state partners like the Commission.

RELATED: Legislature cuts Texas arts funding 28 percent

Austin’s share of the NEA grants is distorted by the fact that the Texas Commission is located in the city but benefits artists statewide. Some of that will be spent here, but we don’t know yet how much.

Interestingly, the $100,000 that Austin’s Creative Action garnered was for a partnershiip with Six Square, a group that seeks to preserve and promote the historical and cultural legacy of African-American in East Austin. Six Square is a designated Texas Cultural Arts District, but the state legislature declined to fund $5 million for the more than 30 such districts statewide.

Unless I’m missing something, these are the Austin beneficiaries:

Forklift Danceworks: $40,000 (in two grants)

Austin Chamber Music Center: $20,000

Austin Classical Guitar: $55,000

Austin School District: $100,000

Big Medium: $20,000

KLRU: $10,000

Austin Cultural Arts Division: $50,000

Collide: $20,000

Conspirare: $30,000

Creative Action: $100,000

Texas Folklife: $35,000*

*UPDATE: Texas Folklife received an additional $38,000 grant for its statewide work.

How will the federal axe to arts, humanities and public broadcasting affect you personally?

Eighty programs would lose federal funding under the president’s proposed budget. Among the independent agencies to be eliminated: Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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That doesn’t mean that what these agencies do would go away altogether. There’s still a lot of politics to go before they turn out the lights.

And, as the New York Times reported, Republicans legislators are lining up to fight for the NEA and NEH, for instance.

Also, all three endeavors maintain strong support from donors and others, especially in urban area such as Austin.

As some observers have pointed out, the cuts will hurt rural, low-income voters the most, since all three agencies are required to distribute their services fairly evenly across the country.

So how do you expect these cuts to affect you directly and concretely? We want to know. You can leave a comment here or send a short note to mbarnes@statesman.com.

NEA, NEH, PBS on the chopping block once again

Since my first day at the newspaper 28 years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts — its sibling National Endowment for the Humanities and Corporation for Public Broadcasting — have been under fire.

The only mildly surprising thing about the new administration’s proposed federal budget, which would eliminate these agencies, is that we haven’t seen many public cases made against these entities in quite some time.

During the 1980s and ’90s, there was plenty to brawl about while a generation of self-avowedly subversive artists began to receive federal funds, especially from the NEA. We must have written hundreds of stories on the controversies.

Yet recently, all has been relatively quiet on the federal front. So it’s hard to see the rationale, especially given the amount of money that would be saved.

Here’s a snip of the New York Times story that ran in the American-Statesman today.

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Former Representative Mick Mulvaney, a spending hard-liner, was confirmed as White House budget director on Thursday. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

“The White House budget office has drafted a hit list of programs that President Trump could eliminate to trim domestic spending, including longstanding conservative targets like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, AmeriCorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities.

Work on the first Trump administration budget has been delayed as the budget office awaited Senate confirmation of former Representative Mick Mulvaney, a spending hard-liner, as budget director. Now that he is in place, his office is ready to move ahead with a list of nine programs to eliminate, an opening salvo in the Trump administration’s effort to reorder the government and increase spending on defense and infrastructure.

Most of the programs cost under $500 million annually, a pittance for a government that is projected to spend about $4 trillion this year. And a few are surprising, even though most if not all have been perennial targets for conservatives. …”