In 1997, Kate Shindle first spoke at the National Press Club as a tiara-wearing Miss America. Twenty years later, she was back — this time, as a Broadway actress and president of the Actors Equity union, calling out the cuts to the arts included in President Trump’s budget.
On Thursday morning, Shindle employed a line of argument tailored to the current political climate and to the budget-slashing president in the White House: The arts, she said, are an economic engine, offering jobs not just for actors and directors, but for ushers, ticket-takers and the like — and arts in turn fuel other businesses, such as hotels and bars, helping revitalize communities from Pittsburgh to Durham, N.C.
Shindle brought up Trump’s own approach, outlined in his book, “The Art of the Deal.”
“Mr. President … when deals crossed your desk, the guaranteed matching funds for every dollar you invested, you signed them,” she said, noting that each dollar in grants from the National Endowment for the Arts is typically matched by $8 in funding from public and private sources.
Shindle, who had taken the previous night off from the L.A. leg of the national tour of the Broadway show “Fun Home” for her Washington mission, acknowledged that such bottom-line talk was far more likely to fly than any highfalutin cultural case might. “The soul value of the arts is so important to those who do this for a living,” she said in an interview after the news conference. “I just feel like the more compelling argument in terms of public policy is an economic one right now, especially with this administration.”
That’s the state of the arts in the Trump era.
So is the dilemma, felt by many artists, over whether to perform at White House events — many have shied away, some in protest of Trump’s policies, and others afraid of alienating fans or ticket-buyers. So, would Shindle accept an offer from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.?
“If the White House called me right now and said, ‘Would you like to come and talk about the importance of the arts?’ you couldn’t slow me down from getting there,” she said.
Ah, but what if the invitation was to perform?
Shindle smiles. “I might say I’d sing as long as they let me talk about how the arts create jobs.”
And while the Trumps certainly aren’t the Obamas when it comes to shining a spotlight on the arts, she noted that the new administration can still bring them attention. The previous night, Ivanka Trump had attended a Broadway performance of “Come From Away” with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, she noted.
“I saw [Tom] Brokaw’s report on ‘Come From Away’ on the news three times this morning,” she said. “A producer can’t buy that kind of advertising.”
Shindle planned to hop a plane as soon as the news conference was done to make her Thursday-night curtain time in L.A., but she’ll be back in Washington when “Fun Home” begins its nearly month-long run at the National Theatre starting April 18. Which means she’ll be awfully close to the White House and the Capitol — all the better for lobbying.