A Providence coalition of art organizations dubbed Culture Stops is calling for arts stoppages across the country on March 10 to model the potential effects of slashed government arts funding. Their slogan: "Witness a world devoid of creativity, imagination and thought."
"The idea really came directly out of frustration about the [federal] budgets — the continuing resolution budget and the budget for 2012," says Drake Patten of the Steel Yard in Providence. But the larger impetus "for this particular thing, at least for me as a cofounder, was thinking year in and year out we seem to be in this place where cultural funding is put on the block, or considered, or is there to be cut."
The US House has voted to chop the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) budget for the current fiscal year by 26 percent, from $167.5 million to $124.5 million. President Obama and Congress have also floated plans to shrink or eliminate the NEA, National Endowment for the Humanities, Community Development Block Grants, Pell Grants, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which subsidizes public radio and television.
"We recently had the NEA chair [Rocco Landesman] come to town," Patten says. "He had just said Rhode Island is ground zero for the arts. And we were left with that comment and were very moved by that comment. We got news while he was visiting actually that the House had expanded the initial budget cuts. He turned to us and said, 'There goes my budget.' "
Patten adds, "For me it was a kind of sleepless weekend . . . We can either be angry and complain about it and be frustrated, or do something." Organizers moved quickly in hopes of affecting the current government budget negotiations. "This is a day of absence . . . and about imagining what won't be if we don't pay attention and do something."
The Steel Yard plans to close for the day of March 10. AS220's Criss Cross Orchestra plans to interrupt its set on Empire Street that night for eight minutes of silence. During curtain calls of plays at Trinity Repertory Company that night, members of troupe plan to speak about the repercussions of the proposed budget cuts and urge audience members to call their politicians and ask for arts funding to be retained.
Lynne McCormack, director of the city's Department of Art, Culture + Tourism, says staff plans to pull down the agency's web page for eight hours that day and put up a Culture Stops message, answer phones with a Culture Stops greeting, and include a Culture Stops plug in e-mails. Groups from across the country have also expressed interest in participating since the website CultureStops.org launched on February 23.
"We understand and accept that our country's economic crisis demands shared sacrifice, but we see these [federal budget] cuts as uneven and disproportionate," CultureStops.org reads. "We believe that Congress needs to apply reductions fairly and evenly — but that it must not balance the federal budget at the expense of the millions of people who add critical vitality to American life."