Well, after 10 months of dickering the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) finally has a budget for Fiscal 2012, which began quite some time ago. Of course, the NEA isn’t any different than any other Federal department, bureau or agency, all of which have been waiting for Congress to get the job done for cryin’ out loud! For the record, the NEA is a very, very tiny part of the Department of the Interior.
So the House of Representatives slashed $11 million from President Obama’s proposal for the NEA, and the Senate put it back and added $9 million more. As finally worked out in conference, neither the House nor the Senate scores points: the NEA is receiving $146 million for Fiscal 2012 . . . which is precisely what President Obama proposed in the first place last February. I figure Congress has wasted at least that much in wrangling over the budget.
For arts advocates, that $146 million is a mixed blessing. It represents a substantial reduction from the $155 million of Fiscal 2011 and a very large reduction from the $167 million approved in 2010, which was the first Obama budget and the highest NEA funding in over 20 years.
On the other hand, times are tough (hey, times always are tough for the arts) and no one seriously was calling for zeroing out the NEA completely. Yes, there were a few ardent Tea Baggers in the House saying that the NEA should be killed, but their proposals were voted down in committee by their fellow Republicans.
The final budget agreement includes $24 million for Arts in Education, a program of the Department of Education which the House repeatedly has tried to kill, but which has managed to survive at an extremely modest level. How modest? Well, let’s do the math: the NEA is funded at approximately $.50 per capita while Arts in Education is funded at $.12 per capita. And you wonder why so many Americans are culturally ignorant.
So how will the NEA spend its money? First, $44.1 million will be passed through to state arts agencies, such as the Illinois Arts Council, and to other state and regional partnerships. Then, $66.2 million will fund the NEA’s own grant-making to hundreds of non-profit cultural organizations, each of which goes through a rigorous application process. The NEA will spend $28 million on salaries and expenses and $2.8 million in “program support efforts” (hey, I don’t know what that means, either, but I’ll trust the NEA to spend it wisely sooner than I’d trust the Pentagon). The final $5 million is for a new initiative, dubbed Our Town like the play, which helps seed community infrastructure developments which include cultural facilities.
The National Endowment for the Humanities also received $146 million.