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Fund the Arts! Stories Are Our Most Valuable Exports

Cut funding to the NEA and PBS? It would be incredibly costly to cut cultural spending.

Jane Rosenthal: When we started the Tribeca Film Festival, which we announced in 2001 right after 9/11 to really bring people back to our neighborhood, our goal was to just bring as many people back downtown as possible. 

When we announced the first film festival we asked Nelson Mandela to come and speak. Our city had been devastated. Our country had been devastated by 9/11.  And as filmmakers we didn’t know what to do other than literally to put on a show and to try to give our neighborhood a new memory, to try to give New York a new memory. And you just couldn’t go like start running movies. So Mandela came and he talked about when he was in Robben Island, when he was in prison; That the one night that he and his jailers all looked forward to was movie night.

It’s when they could come together and they could laugh about the same thing, they could cry about the same thing and they were one. It was finding their similarities, finding what was human about each of them, no matter what side of the door either one was going to end up at at the end of the night. And I always think back to that, and the sense of community of coming together as a community to watch something is actually extraordinary.

When you look at the NEA and potential cuts to the NEA and you look at what would happen to PBS, it’s criminal. The arts reflect what a country is. The arts reflect who we are as a people. And to lose that is losing part of our soul. 

You know, the NEA has been – there have been other administrations that have tried to cut the NEA before, but it’s such a small amount in the budget. And it is again a reflection of who we are as a people. 

No matter where you are in the ecosystem of being a filmmaker, a producer, an actor, it is always hard to get your project made. Sometimes it happens very quickly but for the most part it’s never easy.  

Will artists get by? Will we find a way to make it work? Yes, but when I look and I talk to my friend Whoopi Goldberg some of her early work was funded by the NEA. 

There is a wonderful piece on YouTube of Mr. Rogers talking to Senator John O. Pastore explaining what he did as Mr. Rogers on PBS. And it’s just so charming to listen to that, and you’re going, “How can you cut that?” One of the things is that our best exports becomes our shows, our entertainment.

And I remember reading a piece after I think it was Nick Kristof writing about how when they first went into Afghanistan in the 90s and people were digging up their old VRs after the Taliban had left at that time. They were going into their backyard and digging up VRs and they were coming with their dirty old VRs that they had buried, and the Titanic—And cassettes of the Titanic. 

I mean they love our movies. They don’t always love us, but movies do remain — and I mean stories, our stories become— one of our most valuable exports.


The arts reflect what a country is, says Jane Rosenthal — so what kind of country is the US if it cuts funding to its arts communities? The NEA and PBS are two organizations on the chopping block under the Trump administration's proposed budget. Rosenthal — a film producer and co-founder of the Tribeca Film Festival — reminds us of how crucial story telling is for individuals and nations. The inaugural Tribeca Film Festival opened in 2002, just after the 9/11 terror attacks. The Tribeca Film Festival's purpose was to bring people back to the downtown neighborhood, to create a new memory for the city that wasn't based in fear. They invited Nelson Mandela to speak, and he recalled that the one thing he looked forward to when he was imprisoned on Robben Island was movie night. It created a community between the prisoners and their guards, and provided common ground for their humanity. Beyond the individual, art is also a valuable export from one nation to another, keeping lines of communication and curiosity open between cultures.

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