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Public Arts Funding Update: April

As you might have heard, public funding for the arts has been under pressure at the local and especially state levels ever since the recession hit a few years ago. This year, those pressures have spread to the federal government as well, and during the recent negotiations between Democrats and Republicans in Congress to agree on a budget for the remainder of the current fiscal year and avert a government shutdown, there was worry that the National Endowment for the Arts, the Arts in Education program at the US Department of Education, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would face some of the heaviest burden in the drive to cut $39 billion from the current year’s budget.

As it turned out, the arts did suffer as a result of the cuts – but all things considered, it could have been worse. According to Mike Boehm’s excellent roundup at the Los Angeles Times’s Culture Monster blog, the National Endowment for the Arts‘s budget was given a haircut of 7.5% from this year’s approved level of $167.5 million to $155 million. That’s the same amount as was funneled to the Endowment two years ago, excluding one-time stimulus funding, but still below the level from 1981. The National Endowment for the Humanities, whose budget has been informally tied to the NEA’s for a few years now, saw the same cut. A reduction at the Institute for Museum and Library Services was more serious, from $282.2 million to $237.9 million – or 15.7%. Meanwhile, the US DOE’s Arts in Education program, which had been zeroed out in the temporary continuing resolution passed earlier this year due to a misconception among lawmakers that it represented an earmark, was partially reinstated at a level of $25.5 million – 36% below the original appropriation of $40 million for this year.

Other arts-and-culture-related line items were affected as follows:

  • The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides partial funding to both NPR and PBS, saw its budget essentially unchanged at $445 million as a result of negotiations. This was a huge loss for conservatives, who had pushed a bill defunding CPB entirely through the House of Representatives earlier this year, only to see it go nowhere in the Senate. NPR had come under attack from the right wing last year after conservative commentator and Fox News contributor Juan Williams was fired for making remarks perceived as anti-Muslim.
  • The Smithsonian, another cultural institution that had drawn negative attention from Republicans as a result of a controversial exhibit at the National Portrait Gallery, also did just fine, retaining level funding at $761 million.
  • On the other hand, Washington arts groups are scrambling because of a steep, seemingly mean-spirited midyear cut to the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs grant program. The agency’s appropriation dropped from $9.5 million to $2.5 million, a 74% drop. The NCACA money had distributed large grants to a limited number of organizations, representing nearly a fifth of some grantees’ budgets, but only two-one-hundredths of one percent of the total savings achieved by the spending bill.
  • Two more federal expenditures on the arts, State Department funding for cultural exchange programs and funding for the National Gallery of Art, took modest hits of 5.5% and 7.2% respectively. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts saw its funding remain steady.

Meanwhile, at the state level, the last couple of months have been a mixed bag. Three state arts agencies that had been at risk of elimination or drastic cuts look to be in good shape after significant local advocacy efforts on their behalf. First up, the Kansas Senate voted to override Governor Sam Brownback’s executive order to eliminate the Kansas Arts Commission last month and reinstated funding for the agency at the current year’s levels. The House’s version of the budget still zeroes out funding, however, so arts advocates still have their work cut out for them in the Sunflower State. Second, both the Washington State House and Senate have passed budgets preserving $1.1 million in funding for the Washington State Arts Commission, which Governor Christine Gregoire had proposed to cut to $250,000 and eliminate as an independent agency. Finally, both legislative houses in the Palmetto State have proposed budgets calling for essentially level funding for the South Carolina Arts Commission, in defiance of Governor Nikki Haley’s attempt to eliminate the agency.

On the other hand, pressures continue elsewhere in the country. The news is not good for the Texas Commission on the Arts, which has been taking quite a bit of heat this year. After Governor Rick Perry suggested eliminating the arts council in his State of the State address (but not in his budget), the Texas House passed a budget that zeroes out funding for the TCA. It seems the best case scenario for the TCA now is the 38% cut that was proposed in the Senate. And now two new states are on the chopping block for significant arts cuts. Governor Scott Walker, in his spare time between presiding over the most explosive labor relations battle in the country, has proposed the elimination of the Wisconsin Arts Board as a separate agency and a 68% cut for arts funding by the state. And the New Hampshire House has eliminated support for the New Hampshire State Council on the Arts entirely in the budget it has sent to the Senate in that state. The NHSCA’s state appropriation had already been cut almost in half over the past two years.

You can keep up to date with the legislative appropriations process on a state-by-state basis via the Americans for the Arts State Arts Action Network website, which also has links to the arts advocacy organizations in each state.

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