Saving Federal Arts Funds: Selling Culture as an Economic Force
Among the legislators pushing the conference committee to include the arts money were Ms. Pelosi; Representative Norm Dicks, Democrat of Washington, chairman of the House Interior Appropriations and the Environment Appropriations Subcommittee, which oversees the arts endowment; Representative David R. Obey, Democrat of Wisconsin, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee and a member of the conference committee; and Ms. Slaughter, who as chairwoman of the Rules Committee has clout over amendments.
Mr. Dicks said Ms. Slaughter was a crucial gatekeeper. “She gets a big ‘atta boy,’ ” he said. “She stopped a bad thing from happening.”
“We all worked it together,” he added, “pointing out how much job creation occurs with these arts organizations all over the country. We worked kind of behind the scenes.”
As the details of the final bill were being hammered out, tens of thousands of arts advocates around the country were calling and e-mailing legislators. Arts groups also organized an advertising blitz arguing that culture contributes 6 million jobs and $30 billion in tax revenue and $166 billion in annual economic impact.
The tide turned. In addition to preserving the $50 million allocation, the final bill eliminated part of the Senate amendment that would have excluded museums, theaters and arts centers from any recovery money.
“It’s a huge victory for the arts in America,” said Robert L. Lynch, the president of Americans for the Arts, a lobbying group. “It’s a signal that maybe there is after all more understanding of the value of creativity in the 21st-century economy.”
That Senate amendment, proposed by Tom Coburn, Republican of Oklahoma, had grouped museums, theaters and arts centers with implied frivolities like casinos and golf courses.
Adding to arts groups’ consternation, the amendment had gained the vote of Senate Democrats like Charles E. Schumer of New York and Dianne Feinstein of California, who usually support cultural initiatives.