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Trouble at NEA: exit Alexander.

WASHINGTON--Jane Alexander has resigned as chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts after four brutal years of leading the fight for the agency's survival.

Alexander declined to speak with Dance Magazine, and a news release from the NEA did not specify her reasons for resigning except to say she would "return to private life." It quoted Alexander as saying, "If I am left with one overwhelming impression from my time at the NEA, it is the increasingly strong and spirited connection that has developed between the American people and the arts in their own communities."

That support has not been unanimously reflected in Congress, as even a tribute to Alexander from Senator Edward M. Kennedy acknowledged. Kennedy credited the chairman with "skillfully running the gauntlet of hostile ideological attacks from Congress and brilliantly defending a strong federal role in the arts for communities across the country."

Alexander was still running that gauntlet at the time of her resignation, as Congress was set to vote on what looked like the final NEA funding proposal for this year. Although the bill would fund the NEA, at $98 million, it would also further politicize the agency. The bill, as it stood at presstime, mandates that six of the twenty members of the National Council on the Arts, which approves grants, be members of Congress. NEA opponents attached limits including a 15 percent cap on the funds arts organizations in each state receive, and an increase in funding that goes directly to the states from 35 percent to 40 percent of the NEA budget.

Organizations that have a national impact, including dance companies that tour nationally, would be excluded from the cap. It is unclear whether grants to local organizations that have a national profile--such as Lincoln Center--would be exempted. But the limit could affect organizations like New York City's Joyce Theater, which received $200,000 last year, one of the largest grants. "If that's the way it goes, it's not good news," said Joyce executive director Linda Shelton. "But I'm glad to know the NEA is in place with not too huge a cut."

It might also impact New York City's Dance Theater Workshop, which has nurtured local artists who often have a national impact. DTW received $100,000 last year, according to executive director David White. "It's a very nebulous characterization; what is a nationally important organization?" said White. "There are a lot of nationally important organizations that affect more than New York State that are based here." White worries that the power to make such distinctions may be vested in a politicized council.

White praised Alexander but said, "While she sees it as a victory to at least have maintained the NEA, it can't be seen as a victory to give up decision-making to Congressional representatives, and to leave something in place that will be highly politicized."

Others were concerned about the proposal's increase of funds going directly to the states. "The federal role can do things that state money can't," said Bonnie Brooks, executive director of Dance/USA. States might want to keep their money close, she said. "You would suddenly not have touring money."

In trying to justify dismantling the NEA, its opponents proposed giving more money to states. To get moderate Republicans to vote down the NEA, House Speaker Newt Gingrich proposed state block grants, he house voted against the NEA.

In the Senate, where support for the arts has been stronger, Tim Hutchinson (R-Ariz.) and Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Tex.) proposed amendments that would have earmarked more funds to the states--both were defeated. In Hutchinson's plan, all federal arts funds would have been allocated to the states; under Hutchison's, 75 percent would have gone to the states. A Hutchinson spokesperson said his proposal was "more an issue of equity." She cited the example of the Whitney Museum, saying that it received a grant last year, $400,000, almost equal to the Arkansas Arts Council's $410,000 grant.

Jim Mitchell, executive director of the Arkansas Arts Council, said he sees the value in a federal presence and declined to say whether he would endorse sending all the money to the states. "The arts community is in favor of a continued federal presence," Mitchell said. "That issue is more important than the amount of dollars. Everyone has been striving for a partnership [between state and federal]." He said he was not contacted by Hutchinson.

Ardent arts supporters are unwilling to hand money to the states. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) said she strongly opposed block grants, and that state agencies have told her they did not want the money. Slaughter said this year's NEA battle was the toughest ever. "We really dodged a bullet." A spokesperson for Representative Sidney Yates (D-III.), asked if Yates would consider turning money over to the states, replied, "Absolutely not!"

Sixty-two state and regional arts councils receive NEA funds or "Partnership Agreements," which comprise a network that awards over 25,000 grants, reaching more than 5,000 communities. In 1997, sixty-two grants for $29,453,600 were handed down, with states receiving funds ranging from $383,400 for the New Mexico Arts Division to $840,000 for the California Arts Council. New York came in second with $680,600, with Texas a close third at $627,900. In 1996 seventy-three awards were allocated, a total of $21,552,000.
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Title Annotation:Jane Alexander resigns as chairman of National Endowment for the Arts
Author:Ben-Itzak, Paul
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Dec 1, 1997
Words:895
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