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The arts and cultural sector are no stranger to budget cuts. They’ve endured a number of Republican-led efforts to reduce arts funding since the 1990s, and in keeping with this tradition, President Trump’s budget blueprint, released in March 2017, proposes significant cuts to virtually every agency except Defense, Homeland Security and Veterans Affairs.

It also would completely eliminate funding for the National Endowment of the Arts in 2018.

In the face of these drastic cuts, a real solution to supporting artists and keeping the arts vital in our communities is to develop new models of partnership that link higher education, artist residencies and communities.

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Vermont Performance Lab is a nonprofit arts organization that supports the arts and Vermont’s rural communities through artist residencies that link artists’ creative research and community engagement. Through a decade-long partnership, Marlboro College and the performance lab have been collaborating on a model that links artist research with undergraduate faculty and students, as well as members of our rural communities. A recent project explored the radical movements of the late 20th century.

An undergraduate course involving a local LGBTQ organization, Green Mountain Crossroads, was co-imagined by theater artist Ain Gordon, American studies faculty member Kate Ratcliff and theater faculty member Brenda Foley. This partnership allows faculty and students to get out of the studio or classroom and into our communities for work that tackles important social issues and collaborative research.

Our work together has involved workshops and community forums, and our artist residencies have culminated in published papers, a community oral history project and student exhibitions and performances, as well as professionally produced works of theater and dance.

Most importantly, this work goes beyond traditional master classes and performances to engage participants in the local community. Our collaborative model of socially engaged practice nurtures stronger, healthier communities, while fostering an informed, engaged generation of cultural workers and producing great works of art.

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Partnering in this way helps precious resources go further and enhances our institutions by offering students access to influential artists and community organizations.

While funding for the arts is sometimes seen as frivolous and only to be supported when financial times are great, this is shortsighted considering that the arts strengthen the economy. For example, with only a $148 million annual budget, NEA investments in the arts help contribute to a $730 billion arts and culture economic industry, including 4.2 percent of the annual gross domestic product and 4.8 million jobs that yield a $26 billion trade surplus for the country.

Furthermore, the arts are fundamental to our humanity – they contribute to individual wellbeing, unify communities, improve academic performance in students and spark creativity and innovation. Art transforms civic participation, and further calls to each of us in ways that inspires individuals to do great things.

Artists are the “canaries in the coal mine,” speaking clearly to what our society values and to the health of our democracy.  In these challenging times for the arts and communities, we can best bolster support for the arts that strengthen our communities by developing vital partnerships among arts organizations, educational institutions and community groups.

This story was produced by The Hechinger Report, a nonprofit, independent news organization focused on inequality and innovation in education. Sign up for our newsletter.

Kevin F.F. Quigley is the president of Marlboro College in Marlboro, Vermont.

Sara Coffey is the founder and director of Vermont Performance Lab in Guilford, Vermont.

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