Business & Economy

Cultural leaders decry Trump’s proposed budget cuts

Alex Aldrich
Alex Aldrich, head of the Vermont Arts Council, joins with the leaders of other local cultural organizations Monday to oppose President Trump’s proposed budget cuts. Photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
Vermont cultural leaders are joining together to oppose proposed budget cuts that would gut federal support for local arts groups, museums, public media and more.

Alex Aldrich, executive director of the Vermont Arts Council, said the state’s vibrant cultural scene is an intrinsic part of Vermont.

“When you talk about what makes a community a place worth living in, you’re really talking about its art and culture,” Aldrich said at a news conference Monday.

The arts and humanities programs supported by federal funding help organizations reach out to communities in rural corners of the state, he said.

The news conference, broadcast online by CCTV, brought together more than a dozen leaders of organizations that would be affected by the cuts.

Vermont organizations estimate that last year they received a total of around $4.7 million from federal agencies slated for cuts under President Donald Trump’s proposed budget — including the Institute of Museum and Library Services, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities.

Many organizations rely on that federal support to bring in matching funds from other sources.

Doreen Kraft, executive director of Burlington City Arts, said resistance to the proposed cuts is just beginning.

“We are in round one of what is going to be a very, very lively debate in our country,” Kraft said.

Cutting arts and humanities programs will not only impact those who directly receive funding, she said, but it “sends such a damaging message to future generations about the power of the arts.”

Robin Turnau, president of VPR. Photo by Joyce Martel
Robin Turnau, president of VPR. File photo by Joyce Martel
Robin Turnau, president and CEO of Vermont Public Radio, and Holly Groschner, president and CEO of Vermont PBS, said the federal support the outlets receive is key to the programming they broadcast.

Several people, including leaders of the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington and the Shelburne Museum, spoke about the importance of the federal funding to their missions.

Phelan Fretz, executive director of the ECHO center, said federal dollars make it possible for the lakefront museum in Burlington to offer free memberships to low-income families and educational programs to children.

“If you make science weaker, you make all of us weaker,” Fretz said.

Tom Torti, president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, joined the group to oppose the proposed cuts.

Members of the chamber would not be directly affected by the cuts to federal arts and culture funding outlined in Trump’s budget, he said. However, he said, the organizations that do receive funding are important to the vibrancy and success of the region’s private sector.

“It’s the culture of Vermont that sells Vermont,” Torti said.

Peter Gilbert, executive director of the Vermont Humanities Council, said the organization receives about half its resources from the federal government.

“The United States, the country has a vested interest in having a polity that knows about the humanities,” Gilbert said.

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  • Neil Johnson

    IN 2012 our Vermont budget was 4.3 Billion
    in 2017 our Vermont budget is 5.2 Billion

    Stats from USgovernmentSpending .com

    Our population has stayed the same. We are spending more than 2X N.H. in taxes for every citizen. There are only 9 states that spend more per citizen than the state of Vermont.

    If we lived like we did in 2012 we could refund every person in the state $1,600, based upon population of 600k. So kids, non working babies, most everyone could get a tax rebate of $1600. IN 5 years our spending went up 25%!

    It’s our spending that’s the issue. Expenses have not gone up 25% in 5 years, everyone in Vermont understands that truth.

    • Dominic Cotignola

      Is there somewhere to look at the expenses of 25% line by line?

    • DougHoffer

      Actually, it’s not what you think. First, the budget figures are not accurate, but the growth rate is close. Total state spending grew 22% from FY12 to FY17. However, from 2011 (which covers the first half of FY12) to 2015 (latest available), total personal income grew by 15% ($16.443 billion to $18.879 billion). That is because of income growth at the high end, not for most working folks. State revenues have grown as we came out of the recession so the state returned to pre-recession spending levels. As a result, State spending as a percent of income is very similar to five years go.

      In addition, using the official price index for state government (from the Bureau of Economic Analysis; it’s like the CPI for regular consumers), we see that costs have increased 6.4% from 2011 to 2015 (latest available) so that accounts for another part of spending growth.

      There’s a lot of misinformation out there.

      • Neil Johnson

        There are many ways to justify a budget increase. I was going off It matters not if peoples income rose, that doesn’t justify Vermont spending more money.

        We need to be better, faster, stronger and do it for less. Building state buildings at $155,000 per office is not effective use of money. Building pocket parks on 800 sq.ft, which consist of a couple park benches for $120,00 is absurd. This project won awards….run by tax payer group of regional planners with salary budgets of $170k for the group. Engineering bill of $45k for this little wonder.

        There is a ton of spending out there. If you have all the correct budget schedules from 2000 I’d love to see them. What I’ve seen is 2000 2.3 Billion,
        2017 5.2 Billion…..

  • Rich Lachapelle

    With the US $20 Trillion in unsustainable debt and many states and municipalities way behind on pension obligations, the money has to come from somewhere, so why not this optional foofoo? Cutting funding for the arts “sends such a damaging message to future generations about the power of the arts” but what message does it send to saddle future generations with crippling debt and inevitable austerity? Arts and culture can exist and proliferate without money, but repairing infrastructure, cleaning up the lake and providing for national defense etc etc cannot. We as a society need to admit that the long, crazy party is now over and it’s time to clean up and mop the floor. Keep the funding for arts and humanities LOCAL and accountable. Example: if the Echo Center wants to give away passes to low income folks, let it come from their own coffers or do a local fund raiser. Why should some plumber in Arkansas be paying for that?

    • JohnGreenberg

      Please document your statement that $20 Trillion in debt is “unsustainable.”

      • Rich Lachapelle

        I stand corrected. Any debt is technically “sustainable” if you keep throwing money at it. Ask the people of Greece and Venezuela.

  • Steve Baker

    So know it’s News that “Cultural leaders” are weighting in? Is that because it may hit them in the cultural wallet?

  • This picture doesn’t appear to be very culturally diverse.