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Federal cultural-grants agencies to lose 11.2% of their funding under budget deal

April 14, 2011 |  6:45 am

WashingtonDCSkyline The three federal agencies devoted to making arts and cultural grants will take an 11.2% collective hit under the budget deal that institutes the largest spending cut in U.S. history.

The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services will be faced with reining in their grantmaking between now and Sept. 30, when the 2010-11 budget year ends. As for their spending in the coming fiscal year, that will depend on a budgeting process that is expected to turn into a titanic battle between Republicans who are calling for massive cuts and no tax increases,  and the Obama administration and its Democratic allies in congress, who want a combination of cuts and higher tax payments for high-income earners.

The NEA and NEH each will take a $12.5-million cut this year, from $167.5 million to $155 million -– a 7.5% reduction. Spending at the IMLS will decrease from $282.2 million to $237.9 million, a drop of 15.7%.

IMLS spokeswoman Mamie Bittner said Wednesday that the agency has been “very cautious on spending” since October, when the current fiscal year began, knowing that its allocation was not written in stone because Congress had failed to pass a 2010-11 budget. Instead, the federal government had operated under a “continuing resolution” that retained the previous year’s spending levels but was subject to change. The resolution was about to expire when the the deal calling for $38 billion in spending cuts was reached, averting a possible government shutdown.

One of the questions to be decided now, Bittner said, is how to balance quantity and heft -– should the IMLS help as many recipients as it did before, allocating smaller average grants to each? Or should it keep grants as large as before, but issue fewer to implement the $44.3 million in budget cuts?

NEA spokeswoman Victoria Hutter said her agency wouldn’t comment until the president signs the budget bill into effect.

The National Gallery of Art saw its $111-million allocation reduced by $8 million, a 7.2% cut, and the State Department’s spending for “educational and cultural exchange programs” aimed at improving the nation’s foreign relations was reduced from $635 million to $600 million, a 5.5% cut.

The advocacy group Americans for the Arts issued a statement Tuesday saying it was “heartened” that cuts to the NEA and NEH were “more sensible and proportional” than the 26% reduction that House Republicans passed earlier this year, but which the Democratic-controlled Senate did not OK. Also, Americans for the Arts noted, an “Art in Education” program that had been in danger of elimination has survived, albeit with its budget reduced from $40 million to $25.5 million. While acknowledging current constraints, the group said, “the nation would be better with a more robust investment in nonprofit arts” than what’s left following the cuts.

Funding was not affected at the Smithsonian Institution, whose $761-million allocation is by far the largest federal investment in the arts and culture, or at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, where this year's federal support for operations and renovations totals $36.8 million.

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-- Mike Boehm

 Photo: Fourth of July fireworks near the U.S. Capitol and monuments. Credit: Capital Concerts and WETA, Washington.

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