Saving Federal Arts Funds: Selling Culture as an Economic Force
Arts groups feared that they had been abandoned by their Washington friends, and that they would be shut out of the recovery entirely. Asked about her vote after the amendment’s passage on Feb. 6, Ms. Feinstein said through a spokesman that she was still “a strong supporter of the arts” but felt that the stimulus bill “should invest in critical national infrastructure.”
Senator Schumer said he had been unaware that the amendment ruled out money for museums and theaters.
(In the final language approved on Friday, casinos and golf courses remain ineligible for stimulus funds, as are zoos, aquariums and swimming pools.)
The extra $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts is a significant boost for the agency, whose annual budget, without the additional money, was $145 million. The bill calls for 40 percent of the new money to be distributed by formula to state arts agencies and regional arts organizations. The remaining 60 percent will be set aside for individual arts projects competing for Endowment grants.
President Obama has yet to appoint a successor to Dana Gioia, who served as the Endowment’s chairman until last month. But Patrice Walker Powell, the Endowment’s deputy chairwoman for states, regions and local arts agencies, who has been serving as interim chairwoman since Feb. 2, praised Congress for entrusting the stimulus money to her agency.
“It’s a great opportunity for the cultural work force to be dignified as part of the American work force,” she said in an interview.
Of course $50 million is too meager a sum to rescue major arts groups, even as flailing institutions like the Detroit Institute of Arts reel from budget cuts. Arts executives with worried constituent groups are in many cases philosophical and say they expect the stimulus money to be spread widely.
“I hope the maximum amount of the $50 million finds its way into the pockets of artists and those who support them,” said Reynold Levy, president of Lincoln Center. “An employed dancer is as important as an employed construction worker. His or her family has many needs, owns a home, buys a car and makes an impact on the economy.”