Obama’s 2013 budget calls for 5% increase for arts and culture


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President Obama’s proposed 2013 budget, released Monday, calls for a 5% increase in spending for three cultural grantmaking agencies and three Washington, D.C., arts institutions.

Obama aims to boost outlays from $1.501 billion to $1.576 billion, encompassing the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities (NEA and NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the Smithsonian Institution, the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and the National Gallery of Art.


The arts and humanities endowments each would get a 5.5% boost, to $154.255 million -- nearly restoring cuts announced in December. But if Congress approves the president’s proposal for the fiscal year that begins in October 2012, the NEA and NEH will still be well short of the $167.5 million each was set to receive before two separate rounds of cuts instigated by Congressional Republicans during 2011.

Obama is proposing $231.9 million for IMLS, a $439,000 reduction.

The Smithsonian Institution, by far the heavy hitter of federal cultural spending, would receive $856.8 million -- a 3.7% hike for its operating budget, which would rise to $660.3 million, and a 12.3% increase in capital expenditures, to $196.5 million. The biggest capital expense would be $85 million, to continue construction on the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

The National Gallery of Art is also in line for a nice raise: Obama is calling for a 5.2% increase in its operating budget (to $120 million) and an $8.5-million increase in spending for renovations and repairs, up to $23 million. The total, $143 million, would be an 11.2% increase. The Kennedy Center would sustain an $883,000 cut (2.4%), to $36 million.

Obama also wants to spend $445 million -- unchanged from the current level -- on the Corp. for Public Broadcasting, whose budget includes some grants to cultural programming. Funding for the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum would be $51.8 million, a $1-million increase.

Robert Lynch, president of Americans for the Arts, a leading Washington-based arts advocacy group, praised the proposed increase in arts grantmaking: “The White House is sending a clear messsage that it understands the importance of the creative sector to our communities and the economy,” he said in a written statement.

Obama, for his part, cast the arts as a unifying force on Monday in a brief afternoon speech at the White House, before conferring this year’s National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal to recipients including actor Al Pacino, visual artists Will Barnet and Martin Puryear, and poet John Ashbery (pianist Andre Watts missed the ceremony).


“Equal to the impact you have on each of us every day as individuals is the impact you have on us as a society. And we are told we’re divided as a people, and then suddenly the arts have this power to bring us together and speak to our common condition,” the president said.

He was clearly overlooking the “culture wars” of the late 1980s and early 1990s, which spelled doom for NEA grants to individual artists and resulted in funding cuts from which the agency, whose annual budget stood at $176 million in 1992, still hasn’t recovered. To return to that level in inflation-adjusted spending power, the NEA would need a budget hike to $282.2 million, or nearly double what Obama is proposing.


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-- Mike Boehm