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Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts

27 July 2012

The United States House Appropriations Committee recently approved the Fiscal Year 2013 Interior-Environment Appropriations Funding Bill. The bill totals $28 billion in funding, which represents a reduction of $1.2 billion from last year's levels and a $1.7 billion reduction from President Obama's 2013 proposed budget level. The cuts are widespread, including 17% less funding for the Environmental Protection Agency. Arts organizations also received some scrutiny, particularly the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) with a reduction of over $14 million from its $146 million 2012 budget.

The National Endowment for the Arts was established by the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965, which aimed to promote and support the progress of humanities and arts in the United States. The act declares that “the arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States,” and that “democracy demands wisdom and vision of its citizens.” The legislation proceeds to recommend that the United States fund programs which foster growth of the arts and humanities for the benefit of the public and to cement America as a world “leader in the realm of ideas and of the spirit.”

Funding for the NEA reached an all-time high in 1992 at almost $176 million, before decreasing to $97 million in 2000. Its appropriations started to steadily increase over the next decade before consistently being cut again after 2010.

The House Appropriations Committee Report lists and explains all cuts to programs. For 2013, the NEA requested $154,255,000 in appropriations, which represents an increase of slightly over $8 million from last year's budget. The House Appropriations Committee denied the request and instead cut the budget by over $14 million. These reductions include over $4 million in administrative costs, including personnel salaries and benefits. The committee also denied the NEA's request of $3 million to offset the cost of relocating. In their report, the committee cited insufficient justification and cost details of the relocation as the reason for denying the funds.

Also in the report, the committee championed three NEA programs citing their bipartisan Congressional support and cost-effectiveness: The Big ReadChallenge America, and Shakespeare in American Communities. Each of these programs aims at increasing arts exposure and opportunities for under-served communities. The committee did however cut over $10 million dollars in grants for programs, including the ones they praised. Challenge America was specifically targeted to lose $2 million. Another NEA program notably targeted by the committee is Our Town, created in 2011, which gives grants to programs which increase the livability of a community through the arts. The committee cut its funding in half from last year's level, despite the NEA listing the Our Town program as one of its top priorities in their 2013 Appropriations Request.

“Big budgets don’t necessarily produce better results,” reads the introduction to the Committee Report. In defense of their cuts, the committee states, “The Committee has an obligation to reverse unsustainable patterns of spending growth.” The cuts it made in the Interior-Environment Funding Bill all aim to take a step in that direction. In this time of financial struggle, the committee recommends that all agencies concentrate on cost effective programs. For the NEA, it advises focusing on the NEA’s collaboration with States Arts Agencies who support grassroots level arts development.

Other arts organizations which lost funding from 2012 levels in this bill include The Kennedy Center, The National Gallery of Art, and the Commission of Fine Arts.

The Fiscal Year 2013 Interior-Environment Appropriations Funding Bill now moves to the House floor for approval.

Libby Gardner is a student at Kenyon College, majoring in Political Science, drama and is a current intern with Project Vote Smart.  For more information on internship opportunities with Project Vote Smart, contact us at or call 1-800-VOTE-SMART. 


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