College Art Association

CAA News Today

Status Quo Reigns in Washington on Arts Advocacy Day

posted by admin — May 16, 2000

On January 27, 2000, President Bill Clinton once again proposed a $150 million budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). This would be an increase of $50 million over the previous budget. Last year, on July 14, 1999, the Slaughter Horn Amendment for the NEA was turned down in the House of Representatives by a very narrow margin of 217 to 207. If the Slaughter Horn Amendment had passed that would have been, after negotiations, only a $10 million increase for the NEA. We find this unacceptable and urge you to contact your representatives in Congress; see www.visi.com/juan/congress/ziptoit.html. This site allows you to find out who represents you in Congress and how to contact their office. The vote on the NEA appropriation will be during the summer.

Held in Washington, D.C., on March 21, 2000, Arts Advocacy Day targeted members of the U.S. Congress who voted against last year’s budget increase. CAA joined representatives from fifty other national organizations by making visits to the targeted Congress members’ offices to lobby for support. Over three hundred people registered to participate in and promote this initiative.

At issue is the $50 million NEA budget increase that President Clinton proposes as a specific program, Challenge America. This program focused on funding five areas: 1) art education; 2) youth at risk; 3) called cultural preservation; 4) community arts partnerships; and 5) improved access to the arts for all Americans. This program can be seen as a consolidation of initiatives for areas of support that are not controversial and therefore difficult to attack on conservative grounds. Clinton’s “play it safe” strategy for the NEA demonstrates just how much control the conservatives have in Congress. Indeed, the NEA’s own grant policies directly reflect the tolerance level Congress has for progressive art. Consequently, the agency has taken on the status of a bellwether for party politics and national cultural health.

The consensus of most advocates this year is that the NEA has turned a corner. This is due to several factors. There is an apparent increase in bipartisan support in the House-President Clinton’s initiative is a direct challenge to the pessimism of the conservative leadership. Over the past twelve to fifteen years, arts organizations at every level nationwide have substantially reconfigured their programs and orientation to goals to mitigate negative views promoted by the Republican majority in the House. Support for artists’ projects, exhibitions, and outreach has instead been turned toward educational programs and the emphasis on direct positive effects that cultural institutions have on local economies. These restructurings, which are a direct attempt to position more favorably for decreased levels of federal underwriting, have conformed to restricted NEA grant guidelines imposed as a result of conservative attacks on the endowment.

On the question of reinstating grants for individuals in the visual and performing arts, things have not changed. CAA representatives Katie Hollander, Lee Whitehead, and Paul Skiff made visits to the offices of House Representatives: Bernard Sanders (I-VT); Nita M. Lowey (D-NY); Michael McNulty (D-NY); Louise Slaughter (D-NY); Amo Houghton (D-NY); and Rick Lazio (R-NY). Their attitudes toward grants for individual artists ranged from complete silence, to the pronouncement that it will not happen, to an affirmation that, given time and continued improvement of the NEA’s position, such grants will once again be considered. These responses were from representatives who are on record as pro-NEA supporters. In attempts to schedule appointments with several House members who have records of nonsupport for NEA funding, the phone calls of our advocates were not returned.