President Obama's Budget Request for the NEA: The Fine Print

Posted by Narric Rome, Feb 14, 2012 5 comments

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Yesterday, the Obama Administration released their fourth budget request covering all federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

We learned early that morning that President Obama is proposing an increase of $8 million (from $146M to $154M) for the NEA, which was a very positive start.

In the past two years, NEA funding has dropped almost $22M and has yet to recover from the enormous cuts from its high of $176M in 1992.

The fine print of these budget proposals to Congress are read by federal affairs types for additional news and direction about the programs for which they advocate.

With that mission in mind, the following details may be of interest to arts supporters (You can see the full budget document here):

While the NEA’s budget proposal increases several grant categories, it is the Our Town initiative that receives the most significant support: doubled from $5M to $10M.

The Our Town program made a big debut in 2011 with 51 grantees from 34 states receiving a total of $6.5M. More than half of these grants were awarded to communities with a population of less than 200,000 and seven went to places with fewer than 25,000 people. With $10M to spend in 2013, the NEA could make Our Town grants to 115 communities.

Some further details:

1)      Speaking of grants, due to budget cuts in recent years, the total number of direct grants has gone from around 2,400 in 2010 to an estimate of “more than 2,000” in 2013. However, the NEA confirms that more than $500M in matching support is established through its direct grants, calculating a grant dollar ratio of 8:1. The NEA is also one of the only federal agencies to require a one-to-one match.

2)      Donald Trump and his associates have won a bid to turn the current home of the NEA, the Old Post Office Pavilion (named The Nancy Hanks Center after the second NEA chairman), into a luxury hotel. The NEA will be asked to relocate and has requested $3M to move to a new home.

3)      The NEA is cutting administrative costs and has plans to reduce their 162 person staff by four and cut travel costs by 25 percent.

4)      The agency plans to release a new study based on findings from esteemed arts education researcher James Catterall titled, The Arts and Achievement in At-Risk Youth.

5)      Likely in reaction to the recent state arts agency elimination in Kansas, the NEA is asking Congress to approve a provision to clarify that state matching funds must be “controlled and managed by the State”----not third parties (like foundations).

6)      The most competitive NEA grant category? Literature Fellowships----with just 3.4 percent of applicants receiving awards.

7)      As part of the the agency-to-agency outreach the NEA has recently undertaken, they announced a new partnership with the Department of Defense just two months ago. Operation Homecoming (an established initiative) will hold a new series of writing workshops for returning troops at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center as part of their clinical rehabilitation and creative writing and storytelling experiences for service members at the Fisher House.

8)      What wasn’t in the budget document? No further details on the recently-announced Federal Interagency Task Force to Promote Research on the Arts and Human Development.

We may learn more about these initiatives as Congress begins consideration of this request in the months to come.

The U.S. House customarily begins the appropriations process with the Senate following by late spring; however, as Congress has had trouble finalizing their appropriations bills by the start of the fiscal year (October 1) in the last five years, don’t hold your breath for this to be done until after November 6----Election Day----in what is customarily called a “lame duck” session.

In light of this, it is more important than ever that decision makers at every level of government hear your voice in support of the arts. One way to accomplish that is to join hundreds of fellow arts supporters in Washington, DC for National Arts Advocacy Day on April 16 & 17. For more information about the event, visit

5 responses for President Obama's Budget Request for the NEA: The Fine Print


Frank says
February 15, 2012 at 12:36 pm

As an administrator or a very small theatre my support for the NEA is dropping. When I see so many already hight budget organizations getting money it is hard to support. It is another case of those who have the money get the money. There is no way a small arts organization is going to get money for the NEA, and believe me we have tried. With a budget of under $50K a couple of thousand would be a big help. We can't hire and pay professional grant writers and don't have the professional staff to do so. Thus, the grants go to the large organization who can already fund large professional staff to get more money.

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Narric Rome says
February 16, 2012 at 9:49 am

Thank you for your feedback. I'm not a grant specialist, so you'd want to refer to the NEA directly, but it sounds like you might pursue a Challenge America Fast-Track grant. These $10,000 grants offer support primarily to small and mid-sized organizations for projects that extend the reach of the arts to underserved populations -- those whose opportunities to experience the arts are limited by geography, ethnicity, economics, or disability.

However, as any government entity must, there are limits to eligibility. You may also consider the grant programs funded through your state agencies supported by federal NEA funds.

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February 16, 2012 at 2:12 pm
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February 15, 2012 at 12:49 pm

Before you get too excited about funding communities under 200,000, I would draw you attention to the fact that 90% of the counties in America are UNDER 200,000, with 83% of those under 100,000. So don't try to represent the Our Town grants as anything more than a drop in the bucket when it comes to geographical diversity. And as Frank sayds above, the tendency is to give money to rich institutions. I'm glad there might be more money for the NEA, but we need to see a commitment to funding diversity, including a commitment to it by Americans for the Arts, which also is currently committed to the rich, urban, white institutions.

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February 14, 2012 at 10:51 am

One of the many great points that Chris Hedges makes in his book "The Death of the Liberal Class" is that the Republicans and Democrats have a symbiotic relationship. Hedges says that Republicans need the Democrats so that their policies don't appear to radical to society and Democrats need the Republicans so it appears that they are actually doing something. This lesson can be applied to the meager increase in NEA budget request. We all get to feel good that maybe, just maybe we might be able to eek out a little more money for our cultural heritage and be happy with $160 million dollars for the 2013 budget. At the same time we plan to spend somewhere between $130 -$145 million dollars for just one new f-35 fighter jet. And we plan to buy 2000 of them. Kind of makes the NEA budget a joke doesn't it.

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