Important Message from the General Director of the San Francisco Opera

Dear Members of the San Francisco Opera Family,

Last Thursday, the White House presented their first budget proposal which included a call for the elimination of four federal cultural agencies: the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—cuts that would realize $971M for the government, of which the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is $148M (0.004% of the Federal Budget).

The elimination of these agencies would leave a severe hole in the federal government’s endorsement of culture and art in our society. As it is, the NEA represents a minute fraction of government expenditure, but it serves a critical function both financially and culturally. Here at San Francisco Opera, the NEA has provided $7.7M in cumulative funding since 1985 with the Merola Opera program receiving additional support. Many of our world premiere operas have received NEA funding and we often receive the maximum NEA grant of $100,000 in support of some of the most important, vanguard work that we bring to life on our stage, pieces like our new John Adams’ opera Girls of the Golden West as well as recent works like Heart of a Soldier, Dream of the Red Chamber, and The Trojans.

The NEA was founded in 1965 to encourage participation in the arts, recognize the importance of arts learning and celebrate America’s rich cultural heritage. These are not just noble goals for government, they are absolute necessities for society. The arts give hope, promise, and connection. At stake is $148M of federal funding in support of those basic needs of humanity.

The Administration’s budget proposal is simply that: a proposal that now needs to be examined and adjusted by Congress. Although administrations have in the past proposed NEA cuts,this is the first time an administration has proposed the outright elimination of the NEA.

It is imperative that we make clear to Congress and the Administration the unshakeable importance of culture in our society, and the leadership role that the federal government needs to take in this area. NEA funding may be slight by European standards, but it conveys a tremendous imprimatur on artistic activity in America. By some analysis, NEA funding returns a nine-to-one impact in individual philanthropy. Federal endorsement of culture sends a powerful message. Conversely, a lack of federal participation in culture would leave a very bleak void.

The NEA is not yet dead and we all have a chance to ensure it survives. Please do whatever you can to advocate the importance of arts in society and the importance of a continued NEA. Please reach out to your elected officials and affirm your own belief in the arts and the importance of the NEA. This link will guide you to the contact information for your legislators.

It may be an apocryphal story, but it is rumored that when Winston Churchill was asked to cut arts funding to help the war effort, he replied “Then what are we fighting for?”

Thank you for your belief in the arts and for your support of the cultural agencies of the US government.

With gratitude,