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NEA AND SMITHSONIAN BENEFIT FROM ECONOMIC-RECOVERY BILL

posted by Christopher Howard — Feb 19, 2009

On Tuesday, President Barack Obama signed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, passed by Congress late last week. The $787 billion stimulus bill includes considerable appropriations for the National Endowment for the Arts ($50 million for a federal agency with a $245 million budget for the current fiscal year) and Smithsonian Institution ($25 million, but cut from the House’s original request of $150 million). Language that, in the Senate version of the act, would have excluded museums, theaters, and arts centers from receiving federal funds was removed from the final legislation.

Casey Selix and Cynthia Dizikes of MinnPost.com report:

According to the bill, the NEA money is “to be distributed in direct grants to fund arts projects and activities which preserve jobs in the non-profit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support during the current economic downturn.” Forty percent of the money is to be distributed to state arts agencies and regional arts councils . . . and 60 percent for “competitively selected projects.”

Helen Stoilas from the Art Newspaper and Robin Pogrebin at the New York Times have also reported on the arts portion of the stimulus bill.

In a press release from last week, Americans for the Arts argued that 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations and their audiences generate $166.2 billion annually in US economic activity, supporting 5.7 million jobs and providing nearly $30 billion in government revenue. While politicians debated the merits of including the arts in the economic-recovery package, some stood firm. On the House floor last Friday, Congressman David Obey (D-WI) stated: “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.”

The New York Times has published a full breakdown of the $787 billion, although arts and education funding don’t appear in standalone categories. However, Doug Lederman at Inside Higher Ed once again lists higher-education allotments in the House and Senate bills, as well as amounts in the final compromise that was approved by President Obama.

While groups like Americans for the Arts and CAA applaud the provisions for art and education in the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, others point out larger issues. In the Wall Street Journal, Greg Sandow writes that “Fifty million dollars . . . is just a bubble on a wave” and feels that arguments about the economic value of the arts need closer examination. Tyler Green of Modern Art Notes also casts a skeptical eye on the NEA funding, suggesting that people in the arts should “join Washington’s think-tank culture . . . to develop new ideas about how government should be involved in the arts (and not just in one little agency, but across the federal apparatus).”

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