By LESLEY CLARK
Herald Washington Bureau
WASHINGTON — Though audiences are flocking to plays and musical performances, the slumping economy could dim the stage lights, arts advocates told Congress Thursday in a bid to shore up support for arts funding.
Americans for the Arts, a nonprofit art advocacy organization, predicts that more than
10 percent of the nation’s nonprofit arts organizations -- theaters, symphonies, orchestras
and arts and music festivals -- are at risk of closing this year as the stock market decline cuts into corporate, foundation and individual charitable giving.
The effect could be devastating for burgeoning arts communities like Miami’s, said Michael Spring, director of Miami-Dade County’s cultural affairs department.
“It’s pretty young and it’s pretty fragile,” Spring said after testifying before the House Education and Labor Committee. “Most organizations have built up endowments and can ride it out better. For Miami’s community, this recession couldn’t have come at a worst moment.”
For example, Spring told the committee that the Miami City Ballet made its “triumphal appearance at City Center in New York’’ two months ago to rave reviews.
But less than two weeks later, Spring said, the ballet announced that due to the worsening economy, it was laying off eight dancers and reducing its budget next season by more than 25 percent. And, he added, “There are more layoffs likely to come.”
He said a still-preliminary survey in Miami of arts organizations found that 80 percent have already laid off employees. The arts community was buoyed by the hearing, Spring said, pointing to it as evidence that Congress is interested in backing the arts.
He noted Congress put aside $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts in the $787 billion stimulus package. Miami-Dade is preparing a grant application for $250,000, Spring said.
“The money would entirely go toward helping to restore or retain jobs,” he said.
According to the NEA, artists are unemployed at twice the rate of professional workers and unemployment rates for artists have risen more rapidly than for U.S. workers as a whole.
“We want to make the point we’re part of the solution,” said Americans for the Arts president Robert Lynch. “The arts contribute to the nation’s economy.”