In 1981, the National Endowment for the Arts played a fundamental role in helping me create Sundance Institute. The NEA generously contributed a $25,000 grant to assist us in launching the very first labs for independent filmmakers to develop new work (programs that continue to this day).
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.
The NEA also very clearly helped us create the Sundance Film Festival, which turned into the leading international showcase for new voices and new artists to launch their work and find audiences for stories outside the mainstream. No one has been more surprised than me at how far it's gone, and today the Festival brings millions of dollars of revenue to Utah over a 10-day period – proving that art can be an economic force.
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.
This is entirely the wrong approach at entirely the wrong time. We need to invite new voices to the table, we need to offer future generations a chance to create, and we need to celebrate our cultural heritage.
I believe the NEA must not only survive, but thrive. Which is why I'm asking you to please join me in adding your voice to the chorus of concerned citizens by contacting your congressional representative and voicing your opposition to these cuts and in favor of continued support for the role the arts play in enriching our American story.
The historic investment in the NEA has been fractional compared to other government spending but the dividends of this investment in our culture are unquantifiable. More than dollars, the NEA represents a civilization that values critical and creative thought.
And so let us remind ourselves what's truly at stake by recalling the words of President Lyndon Johnson in 1965 when the NEA was founded: "It is in the neighborhoods of each community that a nation's art is born. In countless American towns there live thousands of obscure and unknown talents. What this bill really does is to bring active support to this great national asset, to make fresher the winds of art in this great land of ours."
I couldn't agree more.
Robert Redford is an award-winning director, producer and businessman who founded Sundance Institute and its annual Sundance Film Festival.
For more insight from CNBC contributors, follow @CNBCopinion on Twitter.