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Second year of NEA's new grant structure a battle.

WASHINGTON, D.C.--The most interesting news emerging from this year's round of federal arts grant-giving is the NEA Army. Not Representative Richard K. Armey (R-TX) who, along with his conservative cronies in Congress, has tried to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, but rather a group of Seattle arts activists who applied for a grant of $98 million--the NEA's entire 1998 budget. Unfortunately for them and the other applicants, the NEA favors funding more companies at lesser levels than last year.

Karen Christensen, Deputy Director of Grants and Partnerships for the NEA, recognizes this reality: "It is a trend across the agency," and she acknowledges that "grants are smaller (than they were last year)." She maintains that this is a course necessitated by funding problems and the response to Congress. Christensen also defends this strategy by stating that they are following recommendations of the arts panels members to strive for a more equitable distribution of grants nationwide: "We are following the advice we are getting from dance experts across the country."

This spring marks the second year under the new funding structure in which individual grants to artists were virtually eliminated and grant applicants were forced to apply in one of four key categories that merge the different disciplines rather than allowing artists to compete against their own. More than 400 grants in the categories of Education & Access and Heritage & Preservation were announced at the end of 1997, totaling $13.5 million; the other two major categories, Creation & Presentation and Planning & Stabilization, are slated to be handed down in late spring.

For the second consecutive year under the new funding structure, Dance Theatre of Harlem has received one of the largest awards, $115,000. This amount, however, is down from the $200,000 it received last year in Education & Access, as are the grants to previous year recipients. Ballet Hispanico of New York received $35,000 to support the company's primary educational outreach program, and Pacific Northwest Ballet received $65,000 to develop and implement a pilot. Overall, grants ranged from $5,000 to the $700,000 given to Educational Broadcasting Corporation to support new additions to PBS's Great Performances and American Masters television series.

Other grants awarded in this category include Eugene Ballet ($30,000), HTDance Company, Inc. ($30,000), Pittsburgh Dance Council ($30,000), Ririe-Woodbury Dance Foundation ($30,000), U.B.W. ($30,000), Florida Dance Association ($30,000), New Orleans Ballet Association ($30,000), KoThi ($25,000), Hartford Ballet ($20,000), Oakland Ballet ($20,000), New Dance Theatre ($20,000), and Spoleto Festival U.S.A., in consortium with Paul Taylor Dance Company and Taylor 2 ($60,000).

In Heritage & Preservation, 140 grants for a total of $4.2 million were allocated. Awards in this category ranged from $5,000 to $100,000, with the largest dance grant the $35,000 which Jose Limon Dance Foundation received to restage his work, There Is a Time. Other dance winners include Andrew Cacho African Drummers and Dancers ($25,000), Preserve ($20,000), New York Baroque Dance ($20,000), and the Dance Notation Bureau ($30,000).

While worthy dance projects were funded this year, when comparing dollar amounts, a more dismal picture emerges. For example, in the category of Education & Access, the totals for dance companies were reduced from more than $800,000 in fiscal year 1997 to just over $600,000 this year, although twenty dance companies received funds as compared with thirteen last year.

Another part of the NEA's mandated strategy to embark on a less controversial path is the inclusion of--for the first time ever--six members of Congress on the National Council of Arts, the decision making body of grantors. They include four Republicans and two Democrats in a nonvoting capacity. Congress also demanded this year an increase to partnership grants from 35 percent to 40 percent. Additionally, Christensen acknowledges that the NEA has moved from a four-tiered review process for grants to a three-tiered review, but states that it is a necessary implementation with budgetary restrictions. "We were trying to do too much with the limited staff we have," she says, citing a 49 percent reduction from fiscal year 1997. Critics claim the NEA is bending to pressure from the right; advocates say it is a necessary move to guarantee survival.

As for the NEA Army and its $98-million idea, which basically consists of modeling a piece of a B-2 Stealth bomber and then carrying it across the country with a sign proclaiming, "PRIORITIES," an NEA spokesperson declares that it is taking this application seriously. The group's goal is purported to show that opposing sides in the funding battles over the arts are not so far apart, according to an article in the Washington Post. Perhaps, but under the new guidelines, is innovation being sacrificed to ensure wider acceptance of and access to the arts? Christensen sums up this inherent dilemma: "Do you reward excellence in a few companies . . . or do you try to serve a broader public?"
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Title Annotation:National Endowment for the Arts
Author:Clark, Marika
Publication:Dance Magazine
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:May 1, 1998
Words:836
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