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NEA's literary stimulus (barely) reaches L.A.

July 9, 2009 |  5:27 pm


On Tuesday, the NEA announced its stimulus grants (aka its American Recovery and Reinvestment Act direct grants) to support arts organizations around the country. More than 25 L.A.-area nonprofits, universities and municipalities received grants ranging from $25,000 to $250,000, for a total of more than $1.6 million.

And of that, there was a single grant to an L.A.-based literary organization: PEN Center USA West, which got $50,000.

Although funds from other arts grants may trickle out to support the Los Angeles literary scene, it's hard not to feel a bit, well, underfunded. Especially when you look at how much other cities garnered to support their bookish culture.

In Minnesota, four literary nonprofits in Minneapolis-St. Paul received grants totaling $125,000, more than double what L.A. will receive. The region has a population of 3.1 million, less than a third that of L.A. County's 10.3 million. If you do the math, that's about a half a cent per person in L.A. for literature, versus 4 cents per person in Minneapolis-St. Paul. Not that the math really makes sense -- those funds are likely to support infrastructure as well as programs.

Not surprisingly, New York maintains its place as a center of literary life, with seven organizations in New York City slated to receive $275,000, far more than any other region of the country.

Literary institutions can support and maintain the cultural dialogue of a city through readings, celebrations and more. Clearly, the NEA has made it a priority to support nonprofits struggling to make it through these challenging economic times. But will book-loving Angelenos have anyplace to go? Other than N.Y. or Minneapolis, that is?

-- Carolyn Kellogg

Photo: Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times