Obama’s 2010 proposed budget gives 4% boost to NEA


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The National Endowment for the Arts would get a 4% raise under President Obama’s federal budget proposal for the coming 2010 fiscal year.

This increase would continue the modest growth implemented under George W. Bush after the 1990s ‘Culture Wars’ brought drastic reductions from which the agency still has not nearly recovered.


The NEA budget, most of which is funneled to state and regional arts agencies and to nonprofit arts organizations, would total $161.3 million under Obama’s plan, up from the current year’s $155 million.

‘We are honored that the president recognizes that access to the arts strengthens both the cultural and civic life of our nation,’ Patrice Walker Powell, the NEA’s acting chairman, said in a statement.

Americans for the Arts, a leading arts-lobbying organization, praised Obama for taking ‘actions firmly in line with the arts platform’ he rolled out during his election campaign. Other initiatives getting a thumbs up from the group are the separate $50-million injection the NEA received as part of the recent economic stimulus package, $38 million for arts-education written into the current year’s Department of Education Budget, and last month’s announcement that Kal Penn, a cast member on the TV show ‘House,’ would join Obama’s staff as associate director of the White House Office of Public Liaison, with a portfolio including outreach to the arts community.

The president has yet to appoint a new NEA chairman to succeed Dana Gioia. And he still has a way to go if the goal is to restore the economic heft the agency had at its peak during the presidency of the first George Bush.

Adjusting for inflation, it would take $267 million in today’s dollars -- $106 million more than Obama’s proposal -- to match the $176 million the agency spent in 1992. Soon after that, fearing the inevitability that unfettered, federally sponsored expression would offend some of the people some of the time, Congress took away the NEA’s authority to make grants to individual artists. By 2000, the agency was getting by on $97.6 million. The coming year’s proposed $6-million increase compares to hikes of $10.5 million and $20 million in two of the W years, and $10.3 million for the current year’s budget that Obama signed in March.

We’d tell you what percentage the NEA’s $161 million comes to out of a $3.5-trillion budget proposal, but we’re not really sure how many zeros there are in trillions -- or whether the Culture Monster calculator can handle them all. We know it’s very, very, very small.


-- Mike Boehm