House passes stimulus bill with $50 million for artists
By a vote of 246 to 183, the House of Representatives has passed the $787-billion economic stimulus bill, hammered out Thursday between House and Senate conferees. And, lo and behold, there's $50 million in it for artists and the nonprofit arts organizations that provide many of their job opportunities. Those who still can afford Champagne had best keep the cork in until a Senate vote expected later today.
Americans for the Arts, which mounted a lobbying and public-pressure campaign to get the arts what amounts to a one-sixteen-thousandth share of the spending and tax breaks in the bill, is hailing it as "an important victory."
The group says its constituents sent more than 100,000 messages and letters to members of Congress, and credits four House Democrats -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, David Obey of Wisconsin, Norm Dicks of Washington and Louise Slaughter, the New York congresswoman who is co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus -- with playing key roles in getting the arts included during the conference process that ironed out differences between House and Senate versions of the stimulus bill.
The $50 million for arts jobs had entered that process in limbo -- included in the House bill but specifically shunned by the Senate's version, which contained an amendment that characterized museums, theaters and arts centers as "wasteful" and "non-stimulative" uses of money intended to create jobs.
If the Senate passes the package, as expected, the arts jobs money will be disbursed via the National Endowment for the Arts. An NEA spokeswoman said the agency aims to draw up guidelines for grant applicants quickly, using its existing grants procedures as a template, as well as ground rules for state government arts agencies to use in distributing a share of the money.
-- Mike Boehm
Photo: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Credit: Lauren Victoria Burke / Associated Press