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In an open letter posted Sunday on the institute's website, Redford made an impassioned case for keeping the NEA one of the federal agencies targeted for dismantling in the budget outline proposed last week by President Donald Trump's administration.
"The proposed defunding of the NEA's budget would gut our nation's long history of support for artists and arts programs and it would deprive all our citizens of the culture and diversity the humanities brings to our country," Redford wrote. "I believe the NEA must not only survive, but thrive."
The administration's budget would eliminate the NEA's budget of $148 million less than 0.004 percent of the total federal budget. The NEA distributes money through state arts agencies, and last year gave some 2,400 grants to arts groups in all 50 states.
Redford noted that the NEA gave Sundance a $25,000 grant in 1981, to help launch the institute's filmmakers labs programs that continue every summer to help independent filmmakers develop their work. The NEA also helped in the early days of what is now the Sundance Film Festival, he added.
"That first promising investment from the NEA, and their belief in my project, was vital to launching programs that now support tens of thousands of American artists working in film and theater and new media," Redford wrote.
Some of the filmmakers whose careers were boosted by Sundance include Quentin Tarantino, the Coen brothers, Paul Thomas Anderson, Steven Soderbergh, Justin Lin, Ryan Coogler, Lee Daniels, Ava DuVernay and Damien Chazelle.
The NEA's investment, Redford wrote, has been paid back not just through the artists whose careers were started at Sundance, but by the economic impact the festival has brought to Utah. "Today the Festival brings millions of dollars of revenue to Utah over a 10-day period – proving that art can be an economic force," Redford wrote.
Redford's letter which never mentions Trump by name includes a plea for people to contact their members of Congress to voice "your opposition to these cuts and in favor of continued support for the role the arts play in enriching our American story."