Friday, March 06, 2009

Can We Defend the $50M NEA Increase When It Only Protects the Status Quo?

So a variety of people, from arts leaders to bloggers to executive-director-level arts advocates, aren't thrilled with me taking issue with the $50 million NEA funding increase. I have suggested, and will continue to suggest, that while it does indeed represent a victory for the sector, it fails to address -- our arts leaders have failed to address -- the long-term fiscal issues that the nonprofit arts and humanities faces today and down the road.

Here is where the leadership-driven propaganda meets hard-numbers reality. Any number of news sources have reported the terms by which the NEA will disburse the money, but I wanted to make sure the information was logged on the CF Report for those who missed it. Notice the sentence I underlined in the third graph:

The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act provides $50 million to be distributed in direct grants to fund arts projects and activities which preserve jobs in the non-profit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn. Forty percent of such funds will be distributed to State arts agencies and regional arts organizations and 60 percent of the funds will be competitively awarded to nonprofit organizations that meet the eligibility criteria being established for this program.

Applicants will be required to submit their applications electronically through, the federal government's online application system. All applicants must be registered with in order to submit their application. If you have already registered with, renew/verify your registration with and make sure that all of your information is current before you apply. Organizations that are not already registered should allow at least two weeks to complete this multi-step process. See the step-by-step instructions for registering.

Funding Program: Competitive Grants
One-time grants to eligible nonprofit organizations including arts organizations, local arts agencies, statewide assemblies of local arts agencies, arts service organizations, units of state or local government, and a wide range of other organizations for projects that focus on the preservation of jobs in the arts. All applicants must be previous NEA award recipients from the past four years. (Application deadline: April 2, 2009.)

Funding Program: Grants to State and Regional Arts Organizations
One-time grants to the designated 50 state and six jurisdictional arts agencies (SAAs), their six authorized regional arts organizations (RAOs), and the national service organization for SAAs and RAOs for projects that focus on the preservation of jobs in the arts. See the list of these organizations on our site. (Deadline: March 13, 2009.)

As Howard Mandel's Jazz Beyond Jazz blog noted, only those organizations that have received NEA grants during Bush's second term will qualify for the 60 percent of the $50 million that is being allocated competitively.

So what we really have is a scheme in which not being a prior grantee of the NEA means you're penalized: such groups, hundreds or thousands of them, are being instructed to sink or swim on their own. Now, perhaps the 40 percent of the funding directed to state and regional arts groups can help non-NEA grantees; I would like to think it could happen. But let's just be clear: When the defenders of the $50 million wax poetic about how indisputably vital this funding is, or when they criticize me for criticizing what I argue is a lack of long-term, creative, innovative thinking in terms of public funding for the arts and humanities, what they're also doing is endorsing the fiscal perpetuation of the sector's status quo.

Even the vaunted fiscal-impact argument I make -- a dollar of arts funding means more dollars in economic activity -- won't help much. If the NEA-funded Public Theater, for example, were to receive a sliver of this $50 million, how would it help the not-NEA-funded Stolen Chair Theatre Company via fiscal impact? It wouldn't, I believe. Behemoths win. Little guys lose. Welcome to America.

You know, we elected a president who aims to redress the economic stratification of the nation that was the hallmark and result of the Reagan, Bush and Bush presidencies (with the eight-year Clinton interregnum in between). In terms of funding for the arts and humanities, there has long been a similar fiscal divide. Do our arts leaders like it that way? They aren't saying.

Sphere: Related Content

No comments: