As Shutdown Crawls On, Artists And Nonprofits Fear For Their 'Fragile Industry' The partial government shutdown hasn't just shuttered museums in Washington, D.C. Across the U.S., and even beyond its borders, artists and the groups supporting them are grappling with the fallout.
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As Shutdown Crawls On, Artists And Nonprofits Fear For Their 'Fragile Industry'

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As Shutdown Crawls On, Artists And Nonprofits Fear For Their 'Fragile Industry'

As Shutdown Crawls On, Artists And Nonprofits Fear For Their 'Fragile Industry'

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/682925400/683732150" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The partial government shutdown is making more people anxious every day, including those in the arts. Theaters, dance companies, symphony orchestras, nonprofit arts organizations worry about the impact on themselves and their audiences, including school kids and families. NPR's Elizabeth Blair has more.

ELIZABETH BLAIR, BYLINE: Dorothy Ryan is managing director of Theatre for a New Audience, based in Brooklyn. For more than a decade, they've been taking Shakespeare to dozens of New York's poorest schools through a program partly funded by a federal agency, the National Endowment for the Arts. This spring, they're planning to introduce students to Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar."

DOROTHY RYAN: They start by learning the story of the play and learning how to understand and read Shakespeare. And then they come to see the play in special morning matinees that we do.

BLAIR: But Ryan's concerned now that the NEA is closed during the shutdown. Theater for a New Audience has already been awarded a $25,000 grant from the NEA. But here's the thing. They don't get the money until after services have been delivered.

RYAN: We don't have the money in hand. As you can imagine, any nonprofit cultural organization struggles with cash flow if they really need to expend funds before funds are received. And the question about when the National Endowment for the Arts will be distributing funds is - it really hits home for us.

BLAIR: On its website, the NEA says, despite the shutdown, it will honor all of its fiscal year 2019 grants and that it's still accepting applications for 2020. But there's nobody working at either the NEA or the humanities endowment to answer questions. Both agencies give money to thousands of small and large arts and cultural organizations across the country, including NPR. Getting a grant from the NEA or NEH helps them raise funds from other sources. But fundraising is a delicate, time-consuming process. Bob Lynch is head of the advocacy organization Americans for the Arts, which also contributes to NPR.

ROBERT LYNCH: It's a fragile industry too. It's not a rich, moneymaking thing. So any little crack potentially affects people and their planning and their ability to attract other funders - all of that kind of thing. It's a ripple effect.

BLAIR: Visits from international artists could also be in jeopardy.

BRIAN GOLDSTEIN: You know, it's show business. It's already fraught with risk. And this is one more complete unpredictable process that could blow up at any moment.

BLAIR: Brian Goldstein is a lawyer with GG Arts Law, a firm that helps international artists secure visas to perform in the United States, mostly in classical, jazz and world music. Goldstein worries a slowdown in an already complex process will make American venues nervous about programming foreign artists altogether.

GOLDSTEIN: We already have the venues calling our office every day. What's going to happen? What do we do? When do we pull the plug?

RYAN: For now, visa and passport services remain open. According to a State Department spokesperson, they'll stay open, quote, "as long as there are sufficient fees to support operations." Art lovers have had to cancel trips to those free museums and galleries that are federally funded. That includes "The Art Of Burning Man," a blockbuster show at the Smithsonian's Renwick Gallery and a show of works by photographer Gordon Parks at the National Gallery of Art. Both are closed during the shutdown. Jill Rorem and her family spent months planning a trip to Washington, D.C., from their home in Chicago during her daughter's winter break.

JILL ROREM: We decided not to go after the shutdown because we didn't need to travel and spend all that money on hotel rooms and fancy meals if we weren't going to get the cultural and educational aspect of it.

BLAIR: Rorem says they lost about $1,000 rescheduling their trip to D.C. for April. She's optimistic the shutdown will be over by then. If not, she hopes they'll at least get to see the cherry blossoms. Elizabeth Blair, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF MEAN LADY SONG "I WILL MARRY YOU")

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