It’s that time of year again when the trees begin to bloom, the heavy winter coats fade to the back of the closet, and there is sure to be an intense debate about federal, state, and city budgets. The arts are notoriously on the chopping block, and this year with hard economic times still facing us, you can bet they will be up for consideration once again.
In President Obama’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) both face a 13% budget cut. The NEA is the largest funding source for non-profit arts in the country, but in the proposal the Administration states:
“In the current fiscal environment, the Administration has chosen to reduce funding for grants programs at the National Endowment for the Arts. The National Endowment for the Arts is working with its sister agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities, to better coordinate and/or consolidate their administrative functions in areas of mutual interest. Such efforts will help to reduce overhead costs at both Endowments, which could produce savings that can be reallocated to partially offset some of the grants programs.”
This is only a proposal, but the general feeling among Republicans, who currently hold a majority in the House in Washington, is that this proposed budget does not do enough to cut spending. Typically near the top of the GOP list are the arts, and there is no sign that this year will be any different. The National Portrait Gallery, part of the Smithsonian which is funded by the federal government, has been under fire in recent months for David Wojnarbowicz’s video A Fire in My Belly. The video was taken down after criticism over a scene depicting ants crawling over a crucifix and other scenes that depicted so-called “anti-Christian” imagery.
Here in Georgia, the situation doesn’t look as dire as it did last year when hundreds of irate Georgians stormed Atlanta’s Capitol Hill to protest the abolishment of the Georgia Council for the Arts. That’s not to say the arts are safe this year. While Georgians experienced severe cuts last year, from $2.5 million down to the present $790,735, the newly elected Governor Nathan Deal’s budget proposal seeks to cut the Georgia Council for the Arts funding yet again from $790,735 to $566,730, simultaneously jeopardizing matching grants from the NEA. According to Susan Weiner, the Executive Director of the Georgia Council for the Arts, the cuts will directly affect their contracts for arts programming.
Although Georgia’s situation is not ideal, many other states are worse. In Kansas, Governor Sam Brownback signed an executive order to abolish the state arts council. Similar proposals are on the table in Texas and South Carolina. In the event that arts agencies are eliminated, they will also lose funding from the NEA, which Weiner added was the equivalent to “Georgians sending tax dollars to Washington, D.C., and these dollars not returning to Georgia.” With the proposed budget in Georgia, the GCA is set to lose $100,000 of its NEA funding because they will not have the dollars to match it. By not adequately funding these agencies, important cultural programs are sure to be eliminated across the country, in addition to the loss of tax revenue, community development, and arts education in our schools. The list continues.
The good news? Things are still up for debate on all fronts, and you can make your voice heard. Spread the word by telling your friends, family, and neighbors. Do some research about programs that are important to you. Extend your voice by contacting your congressional representatives, local arts advocate groups, and business leaders. Times are rough, and tough decisions have to be made, but don’t let what’s important to you go down without a fair fight!