Déjà vu: The Federal Government Standstill’s Implications on the Arts
It seems inevitable. When U.S. Senators take to the Senate floor and immediately follow their words insisting they don’t support a federal government shutdown with, “but if it were to occur,” it conveys a sense of forecasted inevitability.
When Members of Congress note their shutdown “fatigue” but can’t seem to find any rest, and when a White House memorandum planning for a shutdown states that the “Administration does not want a lapse in appropriations to occur,” you know it is coming. All the while, a real sadness and profound loss surrounds the work of our federal government that is idled, stalled, and delayed—with real implications, especially the longer it lasts without resolution.
The first “shutdown day” may prove similar to a “snow day” – an inconvenience, a loss of productivity, and maybe a respite. But as it continues, here is how the social and economic impact through arts and cultural policy might be felt throughout the nation and in our local towns.
- During the federal shutdown in 1995, the vast majority of the staff members at the National Endowment for the Arts were sent home, leaving six staff on duty. This means that grants aren’t processed, programs and events are halted and NEA partners, including the 50 state arts agencies, are cut off from their primary federal cultural agency.
- Head Start, a federal program that promotes the school readiness of children ages birth to 5 from low-income families, is reliant on federal dollars. Look for these programs to shut their doors on critical work incorporating arts education into early childhood development programs.
- The facilities of the Smithsonian Institution, including museums, and zoos will be closed every day the shutdown is in effect, inhibiting tourism, school trips, creative and innovativelearning opportunities, and ongoing preservation of arts and culture. According to a Congressional Research Service (CRS) study of the last federal shutdown in 1995, closure of national museums and monuments resulted in a loss of 2 million visitors.
- All national parks will close, including the more than 40 Artist-in-Residence programs throughout the National Park Service system. The world-renowned Wolf Trap National Park for the Performing Arts, although also supported through a private foundation, would likely need to shutter its federally-supported operations. In 1995 there were closures of 368 National Park Service sites—a loss of 7 million visitors and local communities near national parks lost an estimated $14.2 million per day in tourism revenues.
- Tourism and its associated economic driver and tax revenue generator will suffer. One measure of the loss to tourism is to expect visa processing delays. In 1995, 20,000-30,000 applications by foreigners for visas to come to this country went unprocessed each day and 200,000 U.S. applications for passports went unprocessed. Cultural centers receiving federal funds such as Wolf Trap and the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts (the nation’s busiest arts facility) could face partial closure.
This is just a brief outline of the consequences a federal government shutdown will have on the arts: Another self-created crisis that unfortunately seems inevitable.
Please add your feedback and perspective regarding the impact to the arts and cultural community, should a shutdown occur.
Update: The White House has posted federal agency contingency plans here, including those for cultural agencies such as the NEA.