Arts Desk

Budget Resolution Will Force Local Arts Organizations to Rethink Finances

In a sweeping list of domestic spending cuts announced this morning by the House Appropriations Committee, four arts-related programs will be reduced in the continuing resolution Congress and the White House negotiated last week to avert a government shutdown. The National Gallery of Art will take an $8 $8.5 million hit to its upkeep and renovation funds, reducing keeping its overall operating budget for the 2011 fiscal year equal to the current year's budget of $110.7 million, while the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities will each be cut by $13 million to roughly $154 million, on par with their fiscal 2009 appropriations.

Among the smaller items targeted for cuts in the continuing resolution the White House and Congress negotiated last week to avert a government shutdown is the U.S. Commission on Fine Arts' National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs grant program, or NCACA, a selective fund that supports the operating budgets of many of Washington's best-known private artistic organizations. The NCACA, which last year doled out $9.5 million to 24 museums, theaters, and libraries, will be reduced by nearly three-fourths to $2.5 million for the 2011 fiscal year ending Sept. 30.

At bigger institutions like the Corcoran Museum or Arena Stage, a NCACA grant provides an important, but relatively minor part of their operating budget. The Corcoran received $476,911 in the 2010 fiscal year, about 2.9 percent of its $16.5 million budget that year, while the $430,108 grant Arena Stage received accounted for 3.4 percent of its $12.6 million budget.

For smaller organizations, the $7 million cut to the NCACA program will be quite significant. The $290,779 allotted to Dance Place was the smallest NCACA grant in raw dollar terms, but it accounted for 25.76 percent of the organization's 2010 budget. Carla Perlo, the founder and director of the Brookland dance studio, said the budget-slashing will "hurt a lot," but she was expecting much worse.

"We will be fortunate if [NCACA] gets cut to $2.5 million instead of being totally eliminated," Perlo said. A more tight-fisted federal grant program will force Dance Place and other arts organizations relying on government funds to be more aggressive and creative in raising money without cutting their programming. Perlo, who had been discussing the budget with her grants manager Stephen Clapp when she spoke to the City Paper, asked, "How are we going to meet this challenge?"

The immediate future for Dance Place and other arts groups, Perlo said, will require "big sacrifices" and more collaboration between organizations in both raising money and staging performances. A smaller grant program is better than no grant program at all. The Commission on Fine Arts does not announce its grant winners until April 30 at the earliest.

"We know that we won't get $290,000 again," Perlo told me. "At best we'll get $125,000. It's the difference between being on a diet and starving, and we're on a strict diet."

UPDATE, 5:40 p.m.: Gutting the NCACA grant program will ripple through Washington's economy, said Morey B. Epstein, Studio Theatre's director of institutional development. The $343,111 grant Studio Theatre received last year made up 6.3 percent of its budget for 2010.

"This cut is going to be a terrible shock to the cultural life of D.C.," Epstein said. "This is just a terrible time for the city to be losing $7 million that goes to arts organizations and from there into the city's economy." He noted the many staff and cast salaries and vendors paid by Studio Theatre and other affected groups that make artistic institutions "economic engines" that revitalize blocks and in some cases, whole neighborhoods, citing the GALA Hispanic Theatre, which he called "the heart" of Columbia Heights. (GALA's grant of $296,385 accounted for 18.6 percent of its 2010 operating funds.)

"The nation's capital should be a shining light where the country showcases its arts and cultural life," Epstein said. "The city as a whole is going to feel pain from this."

Clarification appended: The $8.5 million being cut from the National Gallery of Art comes strictly from its renovation appropriation of $48.2 million, while its operation budget for the 2011 fiscal year remains equal to 2010 levels.

Photograph by Flickr user ThrasherDave using a Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 Generic License.

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Comments

  1. #1

    Thank you for covering this issue. The DC Arts funding ecosystem is really complex, and its easy to lose sight of these really important threads that hold our communities together.

    In the US non-profit system (as opposed to the European) government arts funding is not expected to sustain or foot the bill for entire arts organizations. Arts organizations are just businesses, and in bad economies some businesses will shrink and others will go out of business. But at the same time that we're in a recession, and have already taken major cuts over the last three years it's critical that policy-makers realize what this tiny tiny tiny part of the overall budget will mean to our communities. They can't balance the budget by cutting the arts, but they can destroy important community institutions, and reduce access to the arts to those already least served. I'm looking forward to joining other advocates at DC's Arts Advocacy Day, April 27th. Join us!

    -R. Bettmann
    DC Advocates for the Arts
    http://www.dcadvocatesforthearts.org

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