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Hollywood hit Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., to promote the arts ahead of the April 28 White House Correspondents’ Dinner, even as the event’s star power continues to wane under the current administration.
In advance of the so-called nerd prom, on the day of their own Right to Bear Arts Gala, members of The Creative Coalition spent April 27 advocating for the continued funding of the National Endowment for the Arts — a program Trump has repeatedly proposed to eliminate altogether.
Led by TCC president Tim Daly (Madam Secretary), representatives included Nicholas Gonzalez and Richard Schiff of The Good Doctor (though the latter is recognized in D.C. primarily as The West Wing‘s press secretary Toby Ziegler), Sara Rue (A Series of Unfortunate Events), Shiri Appleby (UnREAL), Steve Howey (Shameless), Victoria Justice, Anthony Carrigan (Barry) and Sean Giambrone (The Goldbergs).
The actors went door to door on Capitol Hill to drum up support for the grants that go directly to programs in fine, performing and literary arts in more than 4,500 communities around the country — from arts therapy programs for military vets to creative outreach programs for underserved youth. All in all, they brought their personal stories and impassioned pleas to about a dozen Democratic and Republican representatives from states both blue and red — Alaska to New York, Missouri to Maine.
The government-funded NEA, which receives about $150 million annually, represents only a tiny fraction of a percent of the nation’s total budget and seems to continually be placed on the chopping block. “Even though entertainment is the second-largest export in the U.S., returning $7 for every $1 a community invests in the arts, it’s still a hard sell for some people,” says Daly about the struggle to prioritize arts funding.
It’s also a challenge not to have arts funding tagged as a left-leaning priority, as are its advocates. “Everyone assumes that everyone in Hollywood is a Democrat — but I like to remind my Republican friends that they’re the ones who have often elected the Hollywood elite into office: Ronald Regan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sonny Bono. We need to remember that the arts are a bipartisan issue.”
But even if the executive branch doesn’t hold the arts in high esteem, Congress seems determined to protect that sliver of the budget. “Getting rid of the NEA would be an enormous statement — and a bad statement. And that’s why we’re here, to keep it going,” said Richard Kind (Red Oaks) in a meeting with Leonard Lance, a Republican congressman from New Jersey. Lance agreed, explaining that just because the president proposes budget cuts, that doesn’t mean Congress will approve them. Even Paul Ryan’s office acknowledged that arts education is a benefit to our country.
And there’s no one quite like an actor to pitch the importance of keeping the arts in people’s lives. In a room filled with political players, Daly shared a personal anecdote about how his involvement in theater saved him during a time when his family was crumbling under the weight of divorce and battling alcoholism.
More privately, Madchen Amick (Twin Peaks, Riverdale) opened up about how important the arts have been in treating her son’s mental health issues. “My son was diagnosed with bipolar disorder six years ago. We went through some really traumatic times and we almost lost him,” she said. After enduring a roller coaster of diagnoses and treatments, they finally landed on the right combination of medication and lifestyle choices to help combat his illness — including music therapy as an integral part of maintaining his mental stability.
Perhaps the biggest win of the day came for Queer Eye reboot star and “culture expert” Karamo Brown, who took advantage of the opportunity to address the office of Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, when the group visited the White House. “I grew up lower-middle class — really, almost poor — in Texas, and I could have ended up in a really bad position but for the fact that there was a free arts program for kids [in my neighborhood],” he said. “After school, my friends would go down to the corner and they’d be fighting and getting in trouble, and I would be in this program, expressing myself through the arts, feeling validated and dreaming big for my life. I’m almost sure that if that program weren’t there, I wouldn’t be where I am today.”
Because of that experience, Brown — who didn’t come out as gay until after high school — said he seized the opportunity to address the issue of funding arts for the LGBTQ+ community with the office of Pence and his wife, Karen. “While I know Karen Pence supports the arts, my question for her staffers was: Does she support the arts for everyone? And hearing ‘yes’ — without any malice or judgment — gave me a glimmer of hope in a time where this country feels so divided. If we can find common ground in the arts, what else can we find common ground on that would make us grow closer as a country?”
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