POTUS' 2024 Proposed Budget Full of Numbers but Lacks Art

Today, President Biden sent his proposed budget for fiscal year 2024 to Congress. In it were financial priorities for every federal department, technological investments to grow manufacturing, and strategic initiatives to shore up jobs and national security. The budget reflects President Biden’s national priorities that might be summarized as:

  1. Decrease the deficit
  2. Preserve entitlements like Social Security and Medicare
  3. Promote American jobs
  4. Compete healthily with China

Nestled within the president’s budget is $211 million for the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA), a 1.9% increase from the $207 million allocated by Congress for 2023. Meanwhile, the cost of living has risen by an estimated nearly 9% since 2022.

But the NEA and the American creative economy should be a much higher priority (and portion of budget allocation) for the United States. Nothing spurs the economy like creativity and nothing spurs creativity like American arts and culture. 

There are more than 4.6 million creative industry workers in our country (an economic force equivalent to the airline industry) and the sector contributes $877 billion to the GDP, which is more than transportation, utilities, or education – in fact, more than agriculture and mining combined. It comprises a demographic that includes painters and poets, but also construction workers, fashion designers, consultants, and mental health care workers. Arts and culture is an ecosystem that, when appropriately leveraged, brings innovative problem-solving skills to all industries. 

Our cultural ecosystem is responsible for far more than providing just entertainment, enrichment, and pleasure in our lives. Arts and culture are also an overlooked economic engine for small towns, suburbs, and big cities alike. 

Though few studies exist to prove it as yet (something 4A Arts plans to change,) it’s clear that investing in arts and culture results in huge returns. One study in Chicago found that in “the Loop” neighborhood, for every dollar spent on a theater or concert ticket, $12 of revenue was generated for the Loop economy at large. In the United Kingdom, it was found that for every £1 of taxpayer money that funded its national Arts Council, the Council returned £5; in 2013, that amounted to an added £2.35 billion in the UK national treasury.

But the lack of prioritization of the NEA shows just how little our government values these 4.6 million workers punching well above their weight in economic contributions. The prioritization has, in fact, plummeted over the past thirty years. In 1984, the NEA allocation was 0.0002% of the national budget, nearly twice the percentage it claims today. If funding had merely stayed with inflation since 1982, NEA funding would be $440 million instead of $207 million. 

If that seems like a lot, keep in mind that the Department of Defense was given the green light to put $1.7 trillion (yep, trillion with a “T”,) towards development of the F-35 jet fighter, funding that has yet to produce a single viable jet fighter after over 10 years of spending. For more perspective, 2021 NEA appropriations – a paltry $167.5 million – comprised 0.0001% of discretionary spending, while spending on defense made up 46% and cost American taxpayers a whopping $742 billion.

All of this to point out that this funding is a sad sum for the sole national entity playing the most critical role in the American creative economy that has such immense, untapped economic potential. 

The NEA is an independent federal agency, and the single federal source of funding for United States artists and artistic organizations across the nation, distributing grants that directly impact arts and culture in communities nationwide, particularly in rural areas. Ultimately, the NEA helps craft American identity because American identity is molded by American creativity which stems from American arts and culture. 

Further, American arts and culture should be a bipartisan affair. Business leaders know that arts and culture institutions are financial engines driving the economies of small towns, exurbs, suburbs and big cities. In 2020, 204 Chambers of Commerce (traditionally overwhelmingly Republican voters) from all fifty states signed a letter to Congress requesting the NEA’s budget be increased 600%, from $162.5 million in 2020 to $6 billion in 2021. That request amounts to over 28 times what President Biden is asking this year. 

The United States needs to fund social security and medicare, support the military – including its efforts to shore up democracy overseas lower drug prices, and cut down on waste and fraud. It also should proactively fund the people and organizations that have untapped employment potential and contribute the very most to American “soft” power: artists.

General Manager

Elena K. Holy is proud to join the 4A movement as General Manager. Her 30+ year arts management career includes NYC’s non-profit Roundabout Theatre Company, commercial Broadway and Off-Broadway at Richard Frankel Productions, and founding and running The Present Theatre Company,  where she co-created the New York International Fringe Festival (FringeNYC). FringeNYC was once the largest multi-arts festival in North America – with an all-volunteer staff of 100 people, 2500+ additional volunteers, and 5000 artists representing 200 companies from all over the world, and producing nearly 1100 performances annually, with many now-famous alumni and productions.

As Producer, Holy was awarded the 1997 New York Magazine Award for her “creativity, vision and enterprise”. In 2006, she was named one of New York Magazine’s “Influentials” because she “turned the Fringe Festival, which she founded in 1996, into Sundance for the theater crowd – a place where anyone with an idea and a tiny budget can get noticed. Urinetown, the 1999 Fringe musical that made it to Broadway and won three Tonys, is the most extreme example, but more than a dozen Fringe shows have gone on to significant Off Broadway runs. Her triumph: retaining the fest’s brilliant lunacy amid commercial success.”

Other achievements include the 2007 Mayor’s Award for Arts & Culture, serving as a Tony Awards Nominator from 2008, and being named an Indie Theater Hall of Fame “Person of the Decade” in 2015. As FringeNYC ended (and the pandemic began) she became Interim Managing Director at SHADOWLAND STAGES in beautiful Ellenville, New York where she and husband Kevin share a home with their two westies, Daisy and JuneBug. She serves as Treasurer for the local Chamber of Commerce and is an active member of her community.

Communications and Marketing Coordinator

Working as the Communications and Marketing Coordinator of 4A Arts fulfills Alex Carrillo’s dream to bring his knowledge of the entertainment industry to the broader arts and culture world. Born in Oakland, CA and raised in the Tri-Cities of Washington state, Alex envisaged himself exiting generational poverty and eventually working in the music industry.

After high school, without scholarships, funding, or other support to help him reach his goals, he enlisted in the U.S. military in 2013, joining the Army Infantry. Alex received his basic training in Fort Benning, Georgia before being stationed in Fort Drum, New York, where he proudly became a member of 4-31 Charlie Company, the Mountain Division (the world’s best kept secret). In 2015, Alex was deployed to Afghanistan in a classified combat war zone through early  2016. 

After his time in the service, Alex returned home to seek his college degree. He enrolled at The Los Angeles Recording School, a division of the Los AngelesFilm School, where he received his associate’s degree in Music Production and bachelor’s  in Entertainment Business. 

While still studying at the L.A. Recording School,  Alex landed a publishing deal with Position Music, earning his music a place in the Netflix movie Moxie and in the video game NBA2k22 with his album Locked In. 

After receiving his Bachelor’s degree, Alex began working on the business side of the industry, managing artists, performing social and digital marketing, and distribution, among other duties. Alex joined 4A Arts in the summer of 2022, bringing those talents to the nonprofit world.

Director of Research and Operations

Whitney S. Christiansen is a native Kentuckian with an interdisciplinary background in arts, education, and advocacy. She spent nearly a decade teaching secondary English and drama in public schools, receiving a master’s in Interdisciplinary Humanities from the University of Louisville in 2017, where she received that year’s Grady Nutt Award for the year’s most creative directed study project, “Summoned,” an interdisciplinary practicum that combined research on medieval morality plays and Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus with contemporary concepts of costume and set design. From 2009-2015 she was a cast member and later director for the Kentucky Highland Renaissance Festival, where she inaugurated and directed the festival’s teen cast, who developed two stage shows in the commedia dell’arte tradition. 

Leaving the classroom in 2019, Whitney received her second master’s degree from Colorado State University in Arts Leadership and Cultural Management, where she began working with Be An #ArtsHero, a grassroots campaign dedicated to bringing COVID relief to Arts Workers (now Arts Workers United.) She was the researcher on staff for AWU’s lobbying team for the U.S. House Small Business Committee’s January 2022 hearing on the creative economy, and for Ovation TV’s The Green Room with Nadia Brown, an educational comedy show about the creative economy that launched in March of 2022. Formerly the general manager of the Center for Music Ecosystems, Whitney heads up 4A Arts’ new research initiative alongside her work managing central operations.

executive director

Actor, entrepreneur, political strategist, and father of two, Gavin Lodge comes to 4A Arts with a unique perspective on arts and culture in America. A 20-year veteran of stage and screen, Gavin grew up in suburban Colorado and traversed the country in his work with political campaigns at the senate and presidential levels as well as touring for shows.

After studying international affairs and philosophy at the University of Colorado, he worked as a field organizer in the Iowa Caucus followed by the role of “body guy” to then-candidate Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State. Politics empowered him to move to New York City to pursue a performing career. Ultimately, he performed in multiple Broadway shows (including 42nd Street, Spamalot, and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) as well as regional theater, national tours and several network television appearances.

Though he was thrilled every time he stepped onto a theatrical or sound stage, Gavin was equally happy to take on leadership roles in his local union and later his kids’ PTA.  

With the Covid-19 pandemic, Gavin jumped back into the political realm, working as a strategist for Bryson Gillette, a minority-owned PR firm focused on politics and public affairs. He also volunteered for Be an #ArtsHero, an arts advocacy movement blossoming during the first few months of the pandemic. During his time with Be an #ArtsHero, he was part of a team that successfully lobbied for a first-of-its-kind hearing on the creative economy in front of the House of Representatives Small Business Committee.

Gavin lives in rural Connecticut with his partner (a composer and orchestral conductor), his TikTok-dancing daughter (who is musically gifted in unparalleled ways) and his soccer-playing son who recently told him “Dad? I’m just not into concerts and theater stuff.” As he told his son, Gavin believes there is much more to American arts and culture than “concerts and theater stuff.” From the video games his son loves to play to low-rider paint jobs to streaming television series while sitting on the couch, Gavin sees American arts and culture as an inclusive, “big tent” spectrum where everyone is an artist and everyone is a member of an audience.