Thursday, February 26, 2009

Arts Leaders Won a $50M Boost in NEA Funding...But the Game is Zero-Sum

I just came across this great story in the Denver Post. In essence, while the $50 million boost in NEA funding represents a victory for arts advocates who pressed and pressed for so hard for it that ironing out details seems unnecessary, the details, in fact, are abundantly necessary. Now, I should caution by demonstrating that the focus of the piece is on what portion of that $50 million will actually affect Colorado arts. So let me put that on the table from the piece:

Colorado is guaranteed a share of the $50 million set aside for the arts in the $787 billion federal stimulus package, but no one knows exactly how much or when the funds might start flowing….

Victoria Hutter, a spokeswoman for the National Endowment for the Arts, which is responsible for distributing the $50 million, said the agency hopes to post funding guidelines in early or mid-March….

What is known so far is that 40 percent of the stimulus money for the arts will go to state arts agencies and the country's six regional arts agencies, including the Western States Arts Federation. They will then redistribute those allocations via their existing funding channels.

Elaine Mariner, executive director of the Colorado Council on the Arts, estimates that it could receive at least $100,000 to $200,000.
Here's the catch:
But rather than boost the agency's budget, the added federal funds will likely just help make up for an expected cut to its state funding of 25 percent or more. This year, the council received $1.6 million in state appropriations and $733,000 from the National Endowment for the Arts.
So even my arguments for the funding -- which I oppose because I feel our arts advocates are not thinking in terms of long-term, sustainable funding for the arts, preferring instead to act like pathetic paupers with their palms outstretched for alms -- don't make sense in this case because you can't fall back on the economic impact argument if you've giving with one hand and taking away with the other. The federal government is just making up for state shortfalls. How awful. You won't see our arts advocates talking about that, though. That would require them to develop a vision.

And while we're at it, at least Bill Ivey is acknowledging the problem:
In all, Colorado arts organizations will likely receive several hundred thousand dollars in added funding, which will have a significant impact, said Stephen Seifert, executive director of the Newman Center for the Performing Arts and a board member of the advocacy organization Arts for Colorado.

"In a time when everybody is having to cut back, and corporate and individual giving is down," he said, "this will replace some of the money that these organizations would otherwise have counted on and might keep some people employed. Every dollar counts. I don't know how else to put it."
I should add that the Denver Post article talks about how hard it was to convince certain folks in Congress that arts funding makes good fiscal sense. Of course it is; I honor those who worked so hard to stress that point and stress that point. But what I'm getting at is something beyond that. What are we going to do fiscally to ensure -- sorry, I've got to use the term again -- long-term sustainable funding for the arts? Hello?

Parenthetically, the Denver Post also ran a story lamenting the death of print critics. Unless it went unreported (which is possible), I was saddened to see Todd London, who is executive director of New Dramatists and is one of the nicest and savviest people out there, not seem to understand what the birth and ongoing maturation of the theatrosphere means to criticism. He should open his eyes and investigate. Fast.

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