- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 31, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - Musicians Josh Groban, Wynton Marsalis and Linda Ronstadt pressed Congress on Tuesday for more public funding for the arts to help sustain programs during the nation’s economic slump.

Marsalis said it’s critical for the nation to reevaluate its priorities during the financial crisis to ensure the best aspects of U.S. culture aren’t lost to younger generations because of scarce funding. The acclaimed trumpet player said he learned key lessons about jazz when he was young by playing with some of the original members of Duke Ellington’s band.

“Around the world, music links generations old and young,” Marsalis told lawmakers. “For some reason in our country, we decided we were going to allow the younger generation to be separated.

“We have left our kids exposed to business interests,” he said of divergent tastes in music and culture, “and after 30 or 40 years of that, we’re shocked.”

Marsalis testified before a House subcommittee Tuesday, along with Groban and Ronstadt. Supporters packed the hearing room wearing “Arts Jobs” pins.

Ronstadt, 62, said she’s dismayed when schoolchildren can’t sing a song as simple as “Happy Birthday” together in the correct pitch.

“Not the children’s fault,” she said, adding that kids need to hear more live music. “They think music comes from their laptops or their iPods.”

Groban, 28, said he was immersed in art and music at a young age. In high school, he attended the renowned Interlochen Arts Camp in Michigan, which frequently receives the kinds of federal arts grants that Groban asked Congress to support.

He credited his arts education for teaching him more than simply how to read music.

“There is no better place than a theatrical production to test the characteristics of humility, work ethic, patience, teamwork and a commitment to a common goal,” Groban said. “We have only our current financial mess to turn to for an examination of what happens when those values are not learned.”

Arts advocates fanned out across Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers to increase funding for the National Endowment for the Arts to $200 million for fiscal year 2010. They said federal support for the arts has fallen off dramatically over the past 30 years, considering inflation and the nation’s growth over that time.

Republicans slashed funding for the federal arts endowment in the mid-1990s to less than $100 million, and the annual allocation has yet to return to its high of $176 million in 1992.

This year, the federal stimulus package would add $50 million to the $155 million the agency is receiving from Congress. But supporters worry about how the NEA will fare in years when there’s no infusion of stimulus dollars.

Meanwhile, private funding has shriveled during the financial crisis. Nonprofit arts groups _ from museums to dance companies _ have been cutting jobs or closing their doors in recent months as donations have withered.

The Baltimore Opera, for example, decided to liquidate its assets earlier this month. And the 82-year-old Minnesota Museum of American Art has closed its doors indefinitely as it searches for funding.

According to figures from the group Americans for the Arts, 10,000 arts organizations could be at risk in 2009, representing 260,000 jobs across the country.

“The arts are fundamental in putting Americans back to work,” said Robert Lynch, president and CEO of the lobbying group.

Republican Rep. Mike Simpson of Idaho spared the audience his singing voice but offered some words of support, inspired by old Ronstadt lyrics.

“I don’t know much,” Simpson said with a touch of rhythm, “but I know I love the arts _ and that may be all I need to know.”


On the Net:

Americans for the Arts: https://www.americansforthearts.org/

National Endowment for the Arts: https://www.nea.gov/

(This version CORRECTS the number of arts jobs at risk in 2009.))

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