The Melodia Women's Choir

(WOMENSENEWS)–When the 38 highly-trained singers in Melodia Women’s Choir and conductor Cynthia Powell take their places on stage in New York City on May 16, the vaulted St. Ignatius Loyola will resonate with the rich sounds of French choral music.

The singers, who rehearse for months, will also create a slice of performance history when they are joined by an all-female orchestra to perform these classical selections–a first. In addition, the 24 orchestra players include the only woman on the East Coast who plays the ondes Martenot, an early electronic keyboard instrument of great curiosity to all types of music enthusiasts.

Female artists have been slowly overcoming gender disparities in the arts, but a lack of economic support now will set those efforts back.

A much-intensified investment in the arts, such as what occurred in the New Deal with the Works Progress Administration, would prop up arts organizations and women with them.

Women themselves are deeply engaged in the arts–as artists, arts administrators and audience participants. Arts investments make good economic sense. They energize communities, are an important educational tool and provide deep emotional satisfaction to participants and communities alike.

Arts and culture account for $166 billion in economic activity every year in the United States.

Cuts, Furloughs, Layoffs

Women fill 60 to 70 percent of the administrative staff positions at most nonprofit arts organizations, but the arts and culture sector, like other industries, is struggling to survive in the current economic downturn.

Jennifer Clarke

The nonprofit sector has seen a dramatic decline in income and some larger institutions have experienced a 30 percent drop in the value of endowment funds. Budget cuts, furloughs and layoffs have become the order of the day. In New York City, where cultural institutions generate $2.2 billion in wages, half of the organizations are reducing their staff and canceling programs, according to a January 2009 report by the Alliance for the Arts.

Hundreds of nonprofit arts organizations nationwide are expected to close their doors within the next year, including the Baltimore Opera, the Santa Clarita Symphony in California, and the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul, which has existed in one form or another since 1927.

Stimulus Funds Available in June

Although the National Endowment for the Arts finally received $50 million from the Obama Administration’s $787 billion stimulus package, arts advocates had to fight against a Republican-led effort to strip all arts funding. This stimulus amount will fund 14,000 jobs in the arts and it could leverage hundreds of millions more in private support. According to the National Endowment for the Arts, over 2,600 organizations applied for the funds, which will first become available in June 2009.

This stimulus fund adds a one-time allocation to the $155 million for the National Endowment for the Arts in the federal budget signed into law by President Obama. But this annual budget amount is $21 million less than the organization’s budget allocation in 1992, its zenith year.

Even with the stimulus addition, the United States still gives less than one-quarter to arts and culture annually than England, a country one-sixth the size. For every U.S. citizen, approximately 50 cents goes to the arts; for every British taxpayer, it’s over $17.

Women form about 57 percent of the classical music audiences, and 60 percent of the theater audience.

For Melodia, which puts the participation of female artists at the core of its mission, women are 70 percent of the audience. Since many Melodia singers are in their 20s, much of the audience is young and many are new to the city.

Our May 16 concert is made possible, in part, by a small grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

But to provide more support for women, federal, state and local governments would be wise to invest much more in the arts.

Jennifer Clarke, an arts consultant in New York City, is the founder and executive director of Melodia Women’s Choir of New York City.

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For more information:

Melodia Women’s Choir

National Endowment for the Arts

Fund for Women Artists

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