Congressional Appropriators Consider Cutting NEA in Half

Posted by Narric Rome, Aug 01, 2013 3 comments

Full Cmte 4 Full Appropriations Committee Yesterday, July 31

In mid-July, the appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) met to approve a funding bill for fiscal year 2014, which begins on October 1st. Their bill calls for the NEA to receive a 49% cut totaling $71 million, which would bring the agency’s budget down to $75 million, a level not seen since 1974!

Yesterday, the full appropriations committee began their consideration of the bill, expected to take a few hours. However, they faced numerous amendments and rising tempers, and everyone has had an eye on adjourning for August – so they suspended the committee markup until September.

Before they stopped, they did consider an amendment offered by senior appropriator Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY) and Rep. David Price (D-NC) to fund the NEA (and the National Endowment for the Humanities) to the president’s request of $154 million. The amendment was defeated along a party-line vote of 19-27.

The 49% budget cut that remains in place is shocking, but not necessarily surprising. Leading up to the committee’s action, the House of Representatives approved a budget resolution which included the sequester cuts of about 5% to agency budgets, and an overall funding plan that reduced the entire bill by 19%. So, arts advocates and those who were closely watching from the environmental and natural resource communities were not surprised to see significant cuts proposed. However, a 49% reduction to an independent federal agency is misguided, counterproductive, and entirely disproportionate.

Final FY 2013
(includes 5% sequester cut)

FY 2014 President's

FY 2014 House Subcommittee

National Endowment for the Arts


$154.466 million


National Endowment for the Humanities


$154.466 million


The arts community recognizes the challenges our elected leaders face in prioritizing federal resources. In fact, funding for the NEA has already been cut by more than $29 million over the past three years. These disproportionate cuts recall the dramatic decline of federal funding for the arts in the early 90s, from which the agency has still not recovered.

  • The chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID) stated, in part, “In order to fund critical ‘must-do’ priorities, like human health, public safety, and treaty obligations and responsibilities, we’ve had to reduce and even terminate some programs that are popular with both Members of Congress and the American people.”
  • The senior Democrat on the subcommittee, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) described the cuts to cultural organizations as, “Far from being a drain on the Treasury, these entities deliver programs that enhance our quality of life and provide an economic boost here in Washington DC and in communities across the country.”
  • In a gesture indicating the severity of the cuts, Rep. Nita Lowey (D-NY), commented that these cuts “harken back to a time when a misguided war on the arts and culture ignored the educational and cultural benefits they provide our communities.”
  • In an interview with an online publication Congressional Arts Caucus co-chair Louise Slaughter (D-NY) described the subcommittee action, “They are slicing, cutting stupidly. I’m absolutely amazed. What a short-sighted thing for them to do.”

If this budget is enacted, we project that one out of every two grants across the country would be terminated, the NEA would have to cut in half the grant support it provides through state partnerships, and major staff changes would take place at NEA and at arts agencies around the country. In addition to the direct support lost, the impact on arts organizations would be even broader as each dollar from an NEA grant helps to leverage at least $8 from other state, local, and private sources, expanding tax bases and creating jobs. Interestingly, in 1974, when the NEA was funded at $75 million, if adjusted for inflation, that level would be $350 million in today’s dollars.

While the subcommittee cuts are likely to be endorsed by the full House Appropriations Committee if they complete action on this bill, the steps beyond that are unclear as the appropriations process this year appears to be heading toward a dysfunctional ending. This is because the Senate and the House have vastly different appropriations levels on a variety of bills, and if they can’t find a compromise position, the most likely outcome would be a “continuing resolution” that would maintain the current NEA funding level ($138 million) into the next fiscal year. There is a real possibility of a government shut-down should Congress be unable to find a compromise.

For arts advocates, a continuing resolution is likely to be the best outcome.

Americans for the Arts has been calling on its grassroots advocates, and readers like you, to take action to prevent this cut from taking place. We’ve called on them to register their concerns with their member of Congress through a well-timed message to arrive in advance of final House action.



3 responses for Congressional Appropriators Consider Cutting NEA in Half


Donna Duke says
August 02, 2013 at 12:53 am

Although many consider the arts to be less valuable to a society than food, clothing, housing and health, it is important for us to realize that every culture must experience the joy, creativity, community building as well as individual life skills provided through dance, music, theatre, poetry and graphic arts. Please find ways to reinstate financial support stripped from arts programs throughout this nation.
As a retired teacher, community and school volunteer, I regularly see the positive results of arts involvement for every age and economic sector of our of our state. Where the arts exist, every participant has a place of value and the support of others. Creating healthy, enlightened and thinking communities, the arts must be included and supported.
Donna Duke

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August 03, 2013 at 6:57 am

The Summer 2013 edition of Symphony, the official magazine of the League of American Orchestras, brings us the (surprising?) news that nothing new is happening for women composers in the world of orchestral music. Page 21, “A Continent’s Worth of Premieres: Looking Towards the 2013-2013 Season” is quite beautiful and is devoted to “World and Territorial Premieres in North America.”
The orchestras featured are the Boston, Baltimore, Toronto, Chicago, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Seattle Symphony Orchestras, the New York and Los Angeles Philharmonics, the Cabrillo Festival of Contemporary Music, Duke University, and the National Youth Orchestra of the USA. These 13 orchestras are premiering 18 new works, of which one is by a woman composer, Anna Clyne.
While the page itself is an advertisement from Boosey and Hawkes, it also represents the world of orchestral music rather well. Each year the LAO’s own statistics show that only 1% of orchestral music performed by its member orchestras is by women. (It did jump up to 2% the year Joan Tower received her commission to compose a work for 65 US orchestras.)
The NEA is now seriously threatened, with efforts being made to cut its already modest budget in half. I receive many requests from the LAO, Opera America, and other large music organizations to lobby on their behalf and that of the NEA. Certainly music and art do serve the greater good, but do I myself have an obligation to support rampart inequality in the arts?
No serious person now asserts that women do not compose fine music for orchestra. Why is so little of it played? Our tax dollars are not scorned as of lesser value—should the organizations and activities they support be allowed to continue scorning, or at the very least ignoring, our artistic achievements?

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Mike says
August 04, 2013 at 8:44 am

As an arts professional and a conservative (I know I am a definite minority), I do not see a huge problem with this - the NEA has done itself no service with giving grants in an uneven manner to focus on "new" very questionable work. It also gives money to lots of big organizations that have the ability to staff a grant writer or two that can deal with the red tape, or that can schmooze the staff enough. If they actually just took the loss in funding and cut their staff and sent more money to state agencies and grants, that would be better. But they will cut grants over staff, which is the problem. Arts funding is best left to the state and local governments that KNOW what is happening and can better support their groups.

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