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Clinton seeks 40 percent increase in NEA funding.

WASHINGTON -- It's springtime in the capital, and that means cherry blossoms, tourists, and the annual budget battle on Capitol Hill. This year's debate is expected to heat up significantly as the gentleman's agreement made in the middle of the night in 1995 between conservative members of Congress and the House leadership to eliminate funding for the arts in 1998 is tested. On the other side, arts supporters in Congress and away from the Hill are frantically working to maintain, or even increase, funding for the embattled arts agencies. They have some strong, if unusual, allies -- President Clinton and moderate Republicans in Congress.

This year, Clinton has requested an increase of 40] percent for both the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), amounting to $136 million for each of the beleaguered agencies, backing up sentiments expressed in his State of the Union appeal to Americans to stand by the arts and humanities. Lee Kessler, executive director of the American Arts Alliance, believes Clinton's request will make a difference. "I think it will help solidify support, because this is the year [congressmen] are talking about bipartisanship.

"They are also saying the president's budget is not dead on arrival. For those reasons, I think both his State of the Union address and budget request will go a long way in helping us secure funding."

New York Republican Representative Rick Lazio phrases it another way: "I think it's a hopeful sign that the president, who has been so quiet on the arts issue his first term, is finally getting engaged in the issue."

Lazio leads a key coalition of moderate Republican arts supporters. A member of the House Budget Committee, he has worked behind the scenes to garner support for the arts. Last year he organized a letter-writing campaign to House Speaker Newt Gingrich to express support for the arts. Lazio's ambitious agenda includes rallying Republican moderates, including the Tuesday lunch bunch -- an informal but important group of about forty-five moderate House Republicans who gather weekly to map out strategies on legislation -- and all freshman congressmen, as well as meeting with powerful legislators and key committee members in the House and Senate. In addition, he will approach important service organizations, such as the Conference of Mayors, to rally support. "There is a very strong cell of support within the Republican House Caucus for the arts," says Lazio. "Many members feel strongly about it and want to communicate that to the leadership and cast their votes accordingly."

A big believer in long-range support for the arts, Lazio calls for the creation of an endowment. "We are desperately trying to get to the point where we are not having this battle every year," he says. "We need to do a much better job of creating a long-range endowment that doesn't rely on annual appropriations. This does not mean that I support reductions in what we're doing right now. We need to be thinking about a long-term endowment mechanism that combines some private financing with federal dollars." In addition, he says, "We need to do a better job at the grassroots level, in the communities, to convince these members [who want to eliminate the arts] that this is not just about a Mapplethorpe exhibit, and that many of the reforms they have been talking about for years have been instituted."
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Title Annotation:National Endowment for the Arts
Author:Clark, Marika
Publication:Dance Magazine
Date:May 1, 1997
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