Obama budget proposal would slash 13.3% from cultural grantmakers while buoying D.C. arts institutions


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Funding for the nation’s three main cultural grantmaking agencies would fall 13.3% under President Obama’s proposed federal budget for 2011-12.

Obama is calling for 12.6% cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities; the Institute of Museum and Library Services would take a 14.3% reduction.


Cuts to the agencies’ grantmaking ability would be even more severe, because the president’s proposal calls for preserving staff salaries and taking all the cuts out of line items for ‘promotion of the arts’ (NEA), ‘promotion of the humanities’ (NEH) and ‘assistance to museums/assistance to libraries’ (IMLS). The proposed line items represent a 24.6% loss for the NEA, 17.8% for the NEH, 33% for IMLS museum grants and 13% for its library grants.

Only the Corporation for Public Broadcasting would escape a reduction in its grantmaking: Obama proposes a 3.5% increase for ‘general programming,’ although cuts in its support for stations’ conversion to digital broadcasting would mean an overall 12.6% reduction, from $516 million to $451 million.

Americans for the Arts, a key Washington advocacy group that annually mounts a lobbying effort on Capitol Hill, issued a statement Monday opposing the arts reductions.

‘We believe the administration has missed the mark with such a deep cut,’ the group said, describing the NEA’s grants as ‘modest but critical’ to the nonprofit arts sector. Obama’s proposal is a short-sighted way of trying to reduce the national debt, Americans for the Arts argues, because federal arts grants support exhibitions and performances that attract audiences whose spending on a cultural day or night out helps drive economic growth.

Recipients of NEA grants often trumpet them as a certification of quality, because the grants are competitive and ranked by review panels of experts in each arts discipline; the support can be used as a calling card to help attract the private donations that most cultural nonprofits depend on far more than government support. While Obama wants to cut the cultural agencies that send most of their money outside the Beltway, his budget proposal preserves or increases funding for those that have a physical presence in Washington, D.C.

The Smithsonian Institution’s allocation — which dwarfs all other federal cultural spending — would rise from $636 million to $637 million for regular operations, with an additional $216 million for construction and renovations, including the start of construction on the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The combined $853 million represents a 10.6% increase for the Smithsonian, up from $771 million.


Also in line for an operating increase is the National Gallery of Art — up 7%, from $111 million to $119 million, plus $19.2 million for renovations.

The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts would see its regular funding hold steady at $23 million, plus $13.6 million for repairs and renovations.

In his previous two budget proposals, Obama was stingier with the NEA and NEH than Congress: The president asked $161.3 million annually for each agency; the 2009-10 budget he ultimately signed included boosts of $6.2 million for the NEA and NEH approved by Congress; that budget remains in effect under a ‘continuing budget resolution’ that Congress OK’d last fall after failing to adopt a spending plan for 2010-11.

In the next round of budget deliberations, arts and culture lobbyists will have to persuade a new Republican majority in the House of Representatives. The Republican House leadership last week called for immediately reducing the NEA and NEH budgets to $145 million for the current fiscal year, while Americans for the Arts reported Tuesday that an amendment by Rep. Tim Walbert (R-MI) would lower the current-year ante to $124.5 million. Obama’s proposed cuts wouldn’t kick in until the next fiscal year.

Furthermore, one large segment of the House GOP, the 165-member Republican Study Committee, is pushing to eliminate the NEA, NEH and Corporation for Public Broadcasting entirely.

Out of a $3.8-trillion federal budget, annual nonconstruction spending on the agencies covered in this post comes to about $1.9 billion.


Discounting a good deal of the Smithsonian’s spending for nonarts operations such as scientific research, historical collections and the National Air and Space Museum, subtracting the $223 million the IMLA spends on libraries, plus the chunk of its museum support not geared toward the visual arts and setting aside most of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s budget, which doesn’t go to arts programming, that probably leaves federal spending on the core arts disciplines of visual art, music, dance, theater and literature somewhere south of $1 billion — before any of the proposed cuts kick in.

Note: Readers interested in examining the president’s budget proposal in detail can click here for the budget Appendix that contains all the nitty-gritty. For the budgets of all the cultural agencies mentioned in this post, go to the Appendix, click on ‘Other Independent Agencies,’ and use the search function.


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