The arts: singing the blues.
As the new Republican Congress goes after government waste in its attempt to balance the federal budget, its leadership has an eye on funding for the arts and culture.
Speaker Newt Gingrich has put the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) and the Smithsonian on federal chopping block.
Last year, Congress trimmed NEA funding by 2 percent, and an amendment to eliminate it altogether fell just short of passage. This year, it looks as though federal arts funding will be severely reduced completely.
"Congress has created a nearly $5 trillion national debt," says Congressman Philip M. Crane of Illinois. "How can we rationalize spending millions on the NEA when we don't even have enough money to effectively deal with the illegal immigration crisis or crime in our streets?"
U.S. Senator Nancy Kassebaum, chair of the Labor and Human Resources Committee responsible for Senate reauthorization hearings for the endowments, says that "all options are on the table" including elimination of arts and cultural programs. In the past, Kassebaum was a supporter, but the push for federal government cuts has weakened traditional bipartisan support. Illinois Congressman John Edward Porter, also a supporter in recent years, now doubts that the country can afford the $630 million that cultural programs cost last year.
"To me, it's no longer a question of culture," says Porter. "It's a question of funding, budgets and deficits."
Others object to federal funding on principle, saying that money for the arts best comes from states and the private sector. "Arts funding should be as local as possible so that it reflects each community, and so people can influence it to reflect their values," says Scott Hodge, Heritage Foundation budget analyst, who has called for abolishing the NEA.
Supporters worry that without the federal contribution to state and local arts programs, it will be difficult to leverage funding from private sources. They contend that the arts bring economic benefits to communities, and government contributions are critical to gaining private support.
But should the arts be spared?
Even William Bennett, who served as chairman of the NEH under President Reagan, has changed his mind. He believes that the government [TABULAR DATA OMITTED] has fostered an entitlement mentality among artists and scholars.
"One of the most important contributions the new Republican majority can make is to challenge a core assumption of this city, which is that anything in life that is worth doing or having demands the involvement and financial support of the federal government," said Bennett before a House Appropriations Interior Subcommittee last January.
Much organized opposition to the NEA comes from the American Family Association and other conservative Christian groups that have been trying to halt government spending on what they believe to be "filth and pornography." Fueling their arguments were indirect contributions in 1989 to controversial artists who offended mainstream taste - the late Robert Mapplethorpe with his explicit homosexual photographs and Andres Serrano for his "Piss Christ" photo. More recent friction came when the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis funnelled $150 of its NEA grant money this past year to HIV-positive artist Ron Athey, whose performance art included blood-spilling "Rites."
Calls to eliminate the NEA are increasing, with help from radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh and conservative columnist Pat Buchanan, who is again targeting the NEA in his campaign for president. State lawmakers say constituent complaints against the NEA are more frequent and often refer to talk show dialogue. Kansas Representative JoAnn Pottorff, an arts supporter, says that just the name "NEA" raises a red flag for many of her colleagues. "If you just refer to state or federal arts programs, you don't meet with nearly the opposition as if you use the acronym NEA," she says.
SUBSIDY OR SEED MONEY
Supporters say the NEA's highly publicized controversies are not a good reason to cut federal funding. "How often do we abandon an agency because of a few bad grants?" asks Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, one of the endowments' chief proponents.
"Out of 100,000 grants in the past 30 years, only a handful have been controversial," says NEA Chairman Jane Alexander. "The vast majority of grants go to enrich the lives of millions of Americans, to offer them something new to think about, whether it is an exhibition in the museum or the novel in the public library or the local arts festival."
The strongest argument for continuing federal funds, supporters say, is the ability of arts programs to use federal grants to leverage more funds. But the real trick for arts agencies is to change the perception that NEA appropriations are a subsidy for the arts. Arts supporters point out that federal funds are a minuscule portion of the overall budget for museums, school arts programs, performing arts centers and the like. Yet the NEA, unlike almost any other federal program, attracts unusually high contributions from private donors and local governments. In fact, $142 million (or 85 percent of the NEA appropriation) in federal grant money is more than matched by state, local and private funds to produce more than $4 billion for the arts in the states.
"That's a pretty incredible return on a small investment," says Alexander. "The NEA can claim that for every $1 it spends, it generates another $11 in state, local and private matches."
"The irony of the attack on the NEA is that the arts in America are the very model the Republicans are seeking," says California Senate Majority Leader Henry Mello. "It is already a public/private partnership with the emphasis on private. It seems that the arts are now being penalized for doing a good job of generating outside matches of money."
Each year, the states receive the lion's share of the federal NEA appropriation in block grants to state arts councils, Arts in Education grants and special project money. Thirty-five percent of NEA grants are awarded directly to state arts agencies. Over the past five years, the NEA has awarded $2 billion in direct state grants. States are slated for $44.5 million in FY 1995, and local governments an additional $4 million directly from the NEA.
New Jersey received more than $2.4 million in grants from the NEA including $1.3 million to the state council on the arts in 1994. The Legislature added to that $11.2 million in seed money for nonprofit museums, theaters, dance groups, orchestras and concert halls - drawing an estimated 15 million people to performances and exhibits. The arts council placed 246 artists in residence in schools across the state, serving an estimated 22,000 students.
"Experience has shown us in New Jersey that the support the governor and the Legislature provide to the arts is a clear investment in our state's economy," says Secretary of State Lana Hooks, Governor Christine Todd Whitman's spokesperson on the arts. Hooks fears that a loss of federal support for the NEA would not only hurt the nation's arts industry, but would have "significant repercussions to the sometimes fragile economies of local communities."
CUTS WILL HURT
Betty Price, director of the State Arts Council of Oklahoma, says federal and state funds are important to the small communities in her state. "The numbers are there to prove our point," she says. "The dollars that provide seed money for quality programs are the very dollars that remove the arts from elitism and make them available to all people." Representative Pottorff says that "public broadcasting and the NEA provide a link to the outside world for many rural areas where people don't have access to cable television."
NEA contributes $200,000 to touring arts programs in Oklahoma, ranging from Ballet Oklahoma to Tulsa Opera to the Oklahoma Children's Theater, for 185 rural and underserved areas. The federal money pays half the cost of the program. Communities pay for the rest through donations and other private funding. Many small towns can't fund their own ballet or opera companies, but their residents are happy to make modest donations and volunteer their time to bring arts to their communities. Last year, McAlester (population 16,000) raised more than $5,000 in private donations to bring in the Tulsa Philharmonic for a free concert.
Local arts organizations are required to match state and federal grants for touring companies by at least 1 to 1. Other state grants require an even higher match, sometimes as much as 4 to 1. The Legislature appropriated $3.1 million to the state arts council in 1995 as part of an effort to improve both the image of the state and the economy. "The Legislature views the arts as crucial not only to our cultural development as a state, but also to our economic development," says Senator Penny Williams.
Anthony Radich, director of the Missouri Arts Council, points out that federal and state grants to rural arts organizations are usually very small, but they generate a large economic impact on the entire community. Last year the Missouri Arts Council gave a $16,000 grant to the rural community of Bethel, Mo., to produce three cultural festivals. The festivals generated thousands of dollars for the town by bringing in hundreds of nonresidents, who bought food, gas and locally made crafts. "Rural initiatives benefit economically depressed areas where there is no private money to support the arts. Our grants help them organize community volunteers to create events and sponsor activities," says Radich.
MAKING UP THE DIFFERENCE
Without the lure of federal funds, state legislatures may also cut support for the arts. In the last few years, budget troubles in Louisiana, Michigan and Massachusetts forced substantial cuts in state arts councils. Louisiana cut out all state support for the arts in 1994, but programs continued when the NEA made an exception and gave federal funds without a match. Lawmakers have reinstated and even increased funding for 1995 and promised to provide at least matching funds in the future.
"The NEA is critical to the survival of a number of state arts councils," says Ed Dickey, director of NEA State and Local Programs. Dickey says that federal support is especially important to rural states with smaller budgets. "NEA funds make up a third of the total arts budget in Alabama and over half the budget in North Dakota, Mississippi and Wyoming."
Colorado Senator Tom Blickensderfer says it is unlikely that his state will be able to make up lost federal money especially given the tax limitations imposed by state voters two years ago. "It's not that the legislature doesn't plan to continue supporting the arts, but we can't possibly start backfilling funds for every federal program that gets cut."
The arts are a huge industry with an estimated $36.8 billion in revenues, supporting 1.3 million jobs and generating $3.4 billion in federal taxes, but the private sector may not be able to make up for a loss in state and federal funds.
"It's important to note that there is no silver bullet in the private sector," says Senator Mello, who chairs the California Joint Committee on the Arts. "It's naive to expect them to pick up the slack. They already are hard pressed to help support all the other social programs not fully funded by the government. Last year when we asked the private sector to do more, they told us that not only was it a bad idea, but that it was flat out impossible."
Says Bob Lynch, president of the National Assembly of Local Arts Agencies, "Historically, when public sector giving is down, then private giving is down. There is a misconception that the money is interchangeable, that you can replace public dollars with private dollars. It is simply not true. The only way the states have been able to leverage private support is with public incentives."
Many state and local arts councils have already begun to look for better ways to protect their budgets by generating a mix of public money and private donations. In several states including Missouri and Texas, councils are establishing public/private endowments to support arts activities. The Missouri Cultural Trust is one such endowment, which is funded through state income tax charged nonresident performers and athletes for the days they work in Missouri.
"Our hope is to be self-sufficient within 10 years so that we are no longer dependent on state and federal appropriations," says Radich.
On the federal level, government may look to the states for ideas for funding the arts. One proposal, floated by Speaker Gingrich, funds the NEA through an endowment created by private and federal contributions. This proposal, similar to endowment funds in Missouri, Texas and Utah, would enable the government to take the NEA off the federal budget. An idea from Senator Christopher Dodd of Connecticut is to fund the NEA through earmarked taxes, perhaps drawn from copyright fees. Another option, similar to those being discussed in the welfare reform and crime bills, gives block grants directly to the states. At one recent Senate hearing, NEA Chairman Alexander and NEH Chairman Sheldon Hackney suggested that their agencies look into cutting grants to individuals instead of cutting programs across the board.
"Controversial NEA grants have continued to make headlines and bring into question the endowment's ability to manage federal funds in a responsible manner," says Senator Kassebaum. "At the same time, projects assisted by the NEA have flourished in our states and local communities and have brought art and culture to a wide variety of people. However, it is clear that with many members calling for the NEA's elimination, 'business as usual' will no longer suffice."
RELATED ARTICLE: Federal Support for Culture FY 1995
SMITHSONIAN INSTITUTION: $372 MILLION
A nongovernmental trust, the Smithsonian was created 150 years ago to support 12 museums of art, history, science and a zoo as well as research and support programs.
CORPORATION FOR PUBLIC BROADCASTING: $285 MILLION
A nonprofit corporation created in 1967, CPB distributes money to public radio and television stations and develops programming.
NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE HUMANITIES: $177 MILLION
NEH was created in 1967 to promote the study and preservation of history, literature, philosophy, languages and other humanities through grants, seminars, exhibitions, film and other media.
NATIONAL ENDOWMENT FOR THE ARTS: $168 MILLION
Also created in 1967, the NEA provides matching grants for arts and funding for state art organizations and institutions.
NATIONAL GALLERY OF ART: $53 MILLION
Created in 1967 to house a significant collection of art, the National Gallery also hosts major touring collections.
INSTITUTE OF MUSEUM SERVICES: $29 MILLION
The institute aids museums with grants for operations, conservation and public service. Created in 1976.
THE JOHN F. KENNEDY CENTER FOR PERFORMING ARTS: $19.2 MILLION
A performing arts center established by Congress in 1964 as a presidential monument. The center hosts an annual gala to honor outstanding artists.
RELATED ARTICLE: Public Broadcasting in the States
If the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) loses its federal funding, as now seems likely, states are going to miss it, says Nebraska Senator Gerald Matzke.
In rural Nebraska, where most residents do not have cable television, "Nebraska Educational Television provides an important link for rural communities," he explains. "Public broadcasting is important to the unity of our state."
The CPB is a private, nonprofit corporation that oversees the annual distribution of $285.6 million in federal support for the national public broadcasting system. Seventy-five percent of that money goes directly to state and local public radio and television stations. The CPB has grown into a $2 billion enterprise because the federal contribution leverages five times more money in state and private support.
The Nebraska Legislature appropriates about half of the $18 million budget for public television and radio in that state. The rest comes from CPB, the private sector and viewers. In addition to bringing national programming to rural areas, Nebraska public television supports comprehensive distance-learning projects coordinated with the University of Nebraska and the state Department of Education.
Most public broadcasting money supports radio and television stations in smaller communities. In addition to bringing national programming such as the McNeil/Lehrer News Hour or All Things Considered into these areas, public television and radio offer local programming that no commercial station would fund: high school equivalency and literacy programs and other education courses and information on public health services. Local programming is equally important to rural and urban areas.
"Despite its large population, New Jersey must look primarily across its borders to New York and Philadelphia for television," says Elizabeth Cristopherson, director of the New Jersey Network (NJN). "Only NJN focuses primarily on New Jersey issues. It is the only television station available to all New Jersey households including the 30 percent without cable."
State funding for public television began to shrink in the early 1990s when state budgets were tight. in New Jersey, state support for NJN has declined since FY 1989 from $10 million to $5.7 million this year. The cuts have meant an increasing reliance on federal support. Federal money accounts for 45 percent of the total budget, up this year from 26 percent in 1989. In Nebraska, where support has been strong, it seems unlikely that the Legislature will be able to find the money to make up for any federal cuts.
Laura L. Loyacono specializes in arts, tourism and cultural issues for NCSL and is currently writing a book for legislators on alternative methods of funding culture.
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|Title Annotation:||includes related article; federal aid to the arts|
|Author:||Loyacono, Laura L.|
|Date:||May 1, 1995|
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