Yo-Yo Ma joins rocker to call for US arts funding

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Guns N’ Roses drummer Matt Sorum joined cellist Yo-Yo Ma on Capitol Hill to urge lawmakers Tuesday to increase funding for the arts in a year of deep federal budget cuts.

The rocker and classical musician played a jam session briefly together for a gathering of legislators and arts advocates from across the country who planned to visit congressional offices. They performed with bagpiper Cristina Pato and dancing star Lil Buck.

Sorum said his mother was a music teacher and that his high school classes in orchestra, jazz and marching band were critical in launching his career in music and in business. More recently he has started a charity to support arts education in Los Angeles.

This weekend, Guns N’ Roses is being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland. Sorum said he was excited to visit Washington first to press Congress for funding.

“This is the coolest thing I’ve done since Madison Square Garden, I’ve got to say. Slash is going to be really jealous,” he said, referring to the lead guitarist from Guns N’ Roses and now the group Velvet Revolver. “If I can navigate the music business, I’m going to have fun navigating Congress.”

The group Americans for the Arts is pushing for funding to be restored to $155 million for both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Last year both agencies received about $146 million and lost about $7 million of that due to Congress’ automatic budget cuts.

House Republican budget leaders have called for eliminating the two agencies altogether.

Still, Republican Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey joined advocates Tuesday, saying the arts benefit the entire nation.

Arts programs face a daunting budget environment. At $139 million now for the current fiscal year, the arts endowment has lost about $30 million in annual funding since 2010. It’s an even bigger drop since the endowment’s high point of $176 million in arts funding in 1992.

Ma has pressed for greater focus and funding for the arts in education, joining a White House initiative to help turn around failing schools with arts programs. He also called for including the arts with the educational emphasis on science, technology, engineering and math. Creativity connects the other subjects, Ma said, and helps students become self-motivated and innovative.

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