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Cuts to the NEA would starve Memphis' minority-serving arts organizations

April 19th, 2017

KIRSTIN CHEERS, HIGHGROUND NEWS | WEDNESDAY, APRIL 19, 2017

Memphis arts organizations brace for decreased federal funding that could impact the work they do with underserved and minority populations.

“I don’t know who I would be without music and the piano,” said Sidney Robinson, a junior at Germantown High.

Robinson, a scholarship recipient at the Stax Music Academy, stretches his fingers, straightens his back and plants his feet on the base of the Yamaha piano in the music room the Soulsville facility.

Seconds later, the melody of Prince’s “Purple Rain” cascades from the black and white keys resurrecting the artist as if he were onstage again at Fox Theatre in Atlanta closing out his last concert.

Drive ten minutes from the Stax Music Academy in Soulsville and find a room of 15 girls rehearsing ballet sequences at the New Ballet Ensemble and School. As they align their bodies into first position, their instructor, Katie Smythe, delivers some harsh news.

“If the NEA (National Endowment for the Arts) is no longer here, a tenth of our budget wouldn’t exist,” Smythe told the ballerinas. “That means we would have to make some drastic cuts as well. That could be staff losing their jobs and some of you losing your scholarships.”

The ballerinas flutter with discontent. Many of students at the New Ballet Ensemble are people of color, a demographic most vulnerable to federal cuts to arts funding.

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