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Public Statements

American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

AMERICAN RECOVERY AND REINVESTMENT ACT OF 2009 -- (House of Representatives - January 28, 2009)


Mr. DICKS. Mr. Chair, the arts community in America not only represents a tremendous cultural resource, it also serves to create jobs in local communities all across our nation, an important factor as we consider federal efforts to revive our economy. While some of my colleagues may still not realize the significant number of people who are employed directly and indirectly by the arts community in their congressional districts, I have been encouraged by the vibrant debates we have had in the House in recent years that have helped to broaden the recognition of the arts sector as a major contributor to the economic health of our nation. I have participated in all of those debates regarding the budget for the National Endowment for the Arts, and I am proud that the margin of support for the NEA has been steadily increasing. One of the key factors in increasing that margin has been the activism of the arts community in stressing the economic impact of local arts programming and the jobs created through the growth and development of museums, musical productions, dance, theater and public art projects. In these debates it has been emphasized that each dollar the federal government provides to NEA leverages another seven dollars in private contributions, which in turn generate substantial investment in local communities.

The NEA portion of this economic stimulus legislation will fund small grants to non-profit arts agencies that have been especially hard hit by the economic crisis. The bill specifies that $50 million is ``to be distributed to projects and activities which preserve jobs in the non-profit arts sector threatened by declines in philanthropic and other support.'' These funds are distributed either through formula grants to the states or through the established competitive review system at the NEA.

The non-profit arts sector includes local theaters, opera companies, orchestras, and other visual arts and music programs. These programs play a vital role in all of our cities and towns, representing an economic force with annual revenues estimated at more than $166 billion, supporting 5.7 million jobs. This activity results in billions of dollars in tax revenue on the local, state and federal levels. In the District I represent in the State of Washington, the latest study conducted by Americans for the Arts found that there were 1,626 arts-related businesses which employ 4,646 people.

Unfortunately it is a sector of the economy which has been inordinately impacted by the severe economic downturn we have been experiencing in this past year. Beyond ticket sales and admissions revenues, this sector is heavily dependent on philanthropic contributions and on local government support. The downturn in the stock market during the last year and the large declines in local and state revenues have resulted in large cutbacks in both of these sources of funding, and the result has been disastrous for many of our nation's arts agencies and programs.

We see tragic examples of how the economic crisis has impacted the arts sector on a regular basis. A few examples of this growing problem include:

The Baltimore Opera Company has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and reduced its performance schedule.

State support has been reduced for cultural agencies with Florida reporting a 52 percent reduction, South Carolina 25 percent and New Jersey by 22 percent.

The Pasadena Symphony has curtailed its season due to budget circumstances.

And large businesses such as General Motors have significantly reduced philanthropy for the arts. In Detroit alone this reduction has had a very negative impact on the Michigan Opera Theater, the Detroit Music Hall for Performing Arts and the Detroit Symphony.

The amount in this bill is intended to provide small grants to try to restore some of the jobs which have been lost in the arts communities over the past year. I believe it's the right thing to do ..... it is absolutely critical to maintain these vital programs during times of personal and economic crisis in our nation. In addition to retaining jobs, these funds will support programs which provide entertainment and richness in the lives of our communities at a time when they are badly needed. In the context of this large economic stimulus legislation, I believe this is a prudent investment, and that it will contribute measurably to restoring the fiscal health of our nation.

I also want to insert an article that questions whether the stimulus package includes $300,000 for a sculpture garden.

Does the Stimulus Package Really Include $300,000 for a Sculpture Garden?

As part of their attack on the Democratic-led $835 billion economic stimulus package, some Republicans have attempted to discredit the plan by singling out examples of what they consider the most outrageous spending.

In an interview with Fox News on Jan. 23, 2009, Rep. Eric Cantor, the House Republican Whip, said that in a meeting with President Obama, Cantor asked if he ``could use his influence on this process to try and get the pork barrel spending out of the bill. I mean, there's $300,000 for a sculpture garden in Miami.''

But do a word search on "sculpture'' in the 647-page stimulus bill now before the House and you'll come up blank. That's because it's not in there.

So we asked Cantor's office where he came up with it.

Here's how spokesman Neil Bradley explained it: The House stimulus bill includes $50 million for the National Endowment for the Arts. The bill states that the money would 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.''

It's the lack of detail that particularly bothers Cantor, Bradley said.

"We don't know what they're going to spend it on,'' Bradley said. ``There is no direction to the NEA on how to spend it.''

So to give people an idea of how the NEA spends its money, Cantor's staff looked at some recent grants awarded by the NEA.

And in 2008, the NEA gave $300,000 to the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens in Miami to restore an outdoor statuary. The Vizcaya estate is one of the country's most intact remaining examples from the American Renaissance, a period when the very wealthy built estates to look European. The $300,000 grant was to help restore some of the outdoor sculptures--statues, urns and fountains--that had been severely deteriorating due to South Florida's salty, damp and subtropical climate, not to mention the hurricanes.

But again, this was an NEA grant from last year. It is not in the proposed $835 billion stimulus package that is being pushed by President Obama and congressional Democrats. In fact, because the sculpture garden's money's already been granted, it's probably pretty safe to say that this is one project that specifically won't be part of the spending.

We get the Cantor camp's argument that there are no specific projects tied to the funding in the proposed NEA allotment. When all is said and done, there may very well be plenty of NEA projects that some find objectionable or wasteful. This just isn't one of them.

Kirstin Brost, a spokeswoman for Rep. Dave Obey, (D-Wis.), House Appropriations Committee Chairman, defended the proposed funding to the NEA.

"Artists need jobs just like everyone else,'' Brost said. "Fifty million out of $825 billion
doesn't seem like an extreme amount to support our artists.''

The bottom line here is that Cantor specifically identified the sculpture garden as part of the stimulus package when it just isn't--which his staff acknowledges. And he has made that false claim repeatedly. He was quoted saying something similar in a Richmond newspaper.

That's not just sculpting the facts. That's Pants on Fire wrong.


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