National Endowment for the Arts Supports Miami's Diversity, for Now

The hip-hop dance crew Yeah Yellow will be among the performers at the Arsht in October.
The hip-hop dance crew Yeah Yellow will be among the performers at the Arsht in October. Mahamadou Diarra
In January, the Trump administration announced plans to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts. Concern about the threat has been expressed ever since. Many organizations have struggled to create innovative funding strategies to remain viable in the future. Miami, as a hub of innovation in the arts, is particularly affected by the threat.

Luckily, the NEA was spared this cycle by Congress and on June 14 announced its second round of funding for the 2017 fiscal year. It awarded 1,195 grants with a total of $84 million. Florida garnered 36 grants that totaled approximately $1.6 million. The fiscal year ends September 30 and it's unclear whether Congress will approve or reject Trump’s proposal this coming year.

“Institutions like the NEA and [National Endowment for the Humanities] work towards funding important artistic projects that speak to values in our communities. Without them, it's harder to get projects underway and difficult to affect change in a real way,” says Javier Chavez, the associate director of the Coral Gables Art Cinema.

The cinema recently received a $10,000 Art Works grant from the NEA to support a program called the New Black Cinema. After director Barry Jenkins' Moonlight won Best Picture at the Oscars this year, Chavez says it became particularly important to continue developing African-American and African-diaspora voices in the film industry because they have been historically disenfranchised. “We want to help nurture that conversation and continue that dialogue,” he says. The grant will cover travel and honoraria costs for filmmakers such as Jenkins, Terence Nance, and Jason Fitzroy Jeffers. The symposium will include panel discussions with the filmmakers in topics such as the role of film in hip-hop culture. The program is set to run in 2018.
click to enlarge The London-based Protocol Dance Troupe will perform at Breakin' Miami in October. - PAUL HAMPARTSOUMIAN
The London-based Protocol Dance Troupe will perform at Breakin' Miami in October.
Paul Hampartsoumian
The NEA has also funded Gables Cinema's previous programs. In 2015, it received a grant to support Sabor Latino, a series that specialized in Spanish-language films reflecting the interests of Miami’s Hispanic audiences. With an Ibero-American focus, it offered panels with filmmakers, directors, and writers whose work was of interest to Miami’s Cuban, Colombian, and Central American communities. If Congress approves the elimination of the NEA in the next fiscal year, specialized programming such as this at places like the Coral Gables Art Cinema would be deeply affected.

“We are a small organization... Without the NEA, it's hard for us to exist,” Chavez says. “Going forward, if defunded, we need to rethink other ways of finding money to support our programs. It’s not just the money, but it’s a national institution that supports our mission. The NEA logo says we have the backing of such a renowned institution.”

It’s not only small community arts organizations in Miami that are supported by NEA grants. The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts has also received money. Jairo Ontiveros, the director of education and community engagement at the Arsht Center, says, “The NEA is important because it provides funding that allows free community and education programming. But it’s not just the financial support; it’s that stamp of approval. NEA funding is a mark of artistic excellence that lends credibility to our programs.”

The Arsht received a $25,000 Art Works grant to support Breakin’ Miami, a festival devoted to international and local hip-hop culture. The convention will present performances from hip-hop troupes from around the world, including Yeah Yellow and Protocol. The purpose is to raise the visibility of the hip-hop scene in Miami.
click to enlarge Inside the Coral Gables Art Cinema. - PAUL PERDOMO
Inside the Coral Gables Art Cinema.
Paul Perdomo
Ontiveros emphasizes the importance of education and demystification of hip-hop, an art form that is not often presented in a traditional style. "There is so much history in Miami hip-hop, which is primarily in the black and Hispanic population. We are looking at the black and Latino experience and working with different pockets of our community," he says. Programming for the festival includes panel discussions, dance workshops, and freestyle challenges. The festival, which runs October 20 and 21, will kick off with a summer b-boy battle on the plaza Sunday, July 9.

“Art is just as important as science, math, technology, and engineering," Ontiveros says. "That’s what the NEA is all about. We will take active measures to communicate to our legislators and our constituents... to make sure that the NEA can stay intact and our community is aware that an organization like the NEA is giving breath to what we do here.”
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Minhae Shim Roth is an essayist, journalist, and academic.
Contact: Minhae Shim Roth