Vermont Arts Leaders, Public Broadcasters Call For Action To Oppose Trump Budget Cuts

Mar 20, 2017

A group of leaders from Vermont arts, humanities and public broadcasting organizations came together Monday to issue a united call to action for Vermonters to stand up for federal funding that supports their organizations.

Leaders from the Vermont Council on the Arts, the Vermont Humanities Council, Vermont Public Radio, Vermont PBS, Shelburne Museum, Fletcher Free Library, Burlington City Arts and others from the arts community called on Vermonters to advocate for continued federal funding to those programs.

Related: What Trump's Budget Proposal Means For Vermont

Federal funding for those organizations and others in Vermont would be reduced or entirely eliminated by President Donald Trump's proposed federal budget. The groups present Monday said the federal funding they receive adds up to just shy of $5 million annually.

Alongside them was Tom Torti, the president of the Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce, which doesn't get any of that arts and humanities funding.

Still, Torti said that however private businesses or federal balance sheets are doing, those things can't fulfill President Trump's goal of making "America Great Again."

“The greatness of this country, the greatness of this state, really can be seen through the eyes of young children, who never would have the opportunity to listen to the music that they can, or access the arts, or access those types of things that are available to only people with means,” Torti said. “And each one of these organizations makes it possible for the hope and aspirations of new Americans, of old Americans, of Americans, to be great. And we are great, we continue to be great, and we will only be great as a country if we continue to fund the arts, cultural, humanity organizations that we have funded for decades in this country.”

"We are great, we continue to be great, and we will only be great as a country if we continue to fund the arts, cultural, humanity organizations that we have funded for decades in this country." - Tom Torti, Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce

Many organizations present would lose 100 percent of their federal funding if President Donald Trump's proposed budget is passed by Congress — and they say that loss of funding would be a loss for arts, humanities and the quality of life in Vermont.

At Monday’s news conference, representatives from Shelburne Museum and the ECHO Leahy Center for Lake Champlain said federal funding from the Institute of Library and Museum Services has contributed about $2 million to each museum over the past 10 years. That stream of federal funding would disappear if Trump’s budget passes.

Phelan Fretz, the executive director of the Echo Leahy Center, said that funding has helped pay for nearly 900 free memberships given to families in need.

“I ask all of us to think about the sciences and their critical role that they play in our community,” Fretz said.

He also had a message for Trump: “If you make science weaker, you make all of us weaker. And in fact, by reducing the investments in science and science education, you probably make America weak again.”

Doreen Kraft, the executive director of Burlington City Arts, said the president’s budget proposal does more than cut funding. She said it sends a message.

“Cutting federal support for the arts, for humanities, for public broadcast, not only hurts the artist, the producers, those who directly benefit from creating this work, but it sends such a damaging message to future generations about the power of the arts – the power to heal our lives and create an opportunity for lifelong learning,” she said.

The coalition of organizations said they plan to continue to work together to rally support for continued federal funding.

Disclosure: This year, VPR is getting about 10 percent of its funding from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. This news story was reported, edited and produced independently of VPR President and CEO Robin Turnau, who spoke at Monday’s news conference.