Stimulus Bill Keeps $50M NEA Funding Boost; Arts Leaders Still Averse to Long-Range Thinking


I was away for the weekend, but it’s vital to note that the final version of the stimulus bill that passed Congress did include the $50M National Endowment for the Arts funding boost.

The Times, naturally, covered the story. Let’s take a moment and select some key paragraphs from the Times’ coverage:

Story continues below.

To the relief of cultural institutions, the economic-stimulus bill approved by Congress on Friday preserved $50 million in financing for the National Endowment for the Arts. While minuscule by comparison with some other allocations in the bill, it is a hefty sum for the endowment, whose annual budget is $145 million. Sixty percent of the new money will go to individual arts projects competing for N.E.A. funds. The remainder will be distributed to state arts agencies and regional arts organizations for disbursal….

Arguing for the $50 million in arts money on the House floor on Friday, Representative David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, said: “You know what? There are five million people who work in the arts industry. And right now they have 12.5 percent unemployment – or are you suggesting that somehow if you work in that field, it isn’t real when you lose your job, your mortgage or your health insurance? We’re trying to treat people who work in the arts the same way as anybody else.”

Obey is, of course, quite correct. And now, people like Teresa Eyring, executive director of Theatre Communications Group, have gotten at least some of the boost they asked for as part of a coalition of arts leaders that submitted a list of recommendations to the presidential transition team.

But again, I ask: Why are these people worried only about this year, about extending their palms and begging for short-term alms? In other words, why don’t these people have long-term, well defined, smartly articulated medium- and long-range plans on the table for arts funding? I know — they’ll probably just say the government should fund it to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars every year. In that sense, they’re no better than any other bloodless lobbyists. But our sector should expect more from them. They’re apparently too co-opted by the lure of national debt money to think beyond tomorrow. It’s every man for himself in this economy, I guess.