NASAA Notes: March 2010


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Jonathan Katz

March issue
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March 12, 2010

NEA-SAA Partnership Strengthens Congressional Support

Among NASAA’s communication priorities is conveying to key audiences—including its own membership as well as officials of the new federal administration—the unique value provided by the portion of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) program budget that Congress has mandated for distribution through state arts agencies and their regional groups. In the statement that follows, I describe four ways in which the states’ portion results in distinct public benefits that strengthen congressional support for the NEA. This was published originally in Barry’s Blog, which also featured comment by Loie Fecteau, executive director of New Mexico Arts and a member of the NASAA board of directors. It has been edited for this issue of NASAA Notes.

JONATHAN: The NEA employs two basic methods of distributing its funds to fulfill its mission: directly via national panels and indirectly through partnership agreements with state arts agencies. I’ll note four reasons that the 40% of the NEA program budget distributed through the 56 states and jurisdictions, and their regional groups, contributes powerfully to congressional support of the agency.

One is that the state formula guarantees that a predictable portion of the tax dollars invested annually in the arts by the federal government will go to each state. The NEA is a federal agency, not a foundation. Every senator and every member of the House of Representatives represents constituents who pay taxes, vote, perceive the arts as important and want to see the federal investment in artistic excellence and access include their district. The distributive principle maintains the NEA’s viability as a government agency just as it does for the federal agencies with responsibility for education, transportation, housing and urban development, the humanities, and other public benefits.

Second, beyond distribution, the state portion increases the reach and impact of federal arts support. When agency staff and panels at the state level make decisions and provide services to artists, arts organizations and the public with federal dollars, they do so with knowledge of each state’s unique cultural, social, economic and artistic environment. They cultivate means of reaching every corner of their state suitable to each state’s circumstances—including presenter networks, touring programs, arts education programs, state-local government partnerships and cultural district incentives. Since the NEA requires and approves state plans that must be informed by a public process, must support arts education and must serve the underserved, the state portion of its budget supports a system through which statewide priorities are identified and addressed compatibly with national goals. I should point out that the unique value of the state partnership portion continues to be revealed. When the NEA decided that it would directly award American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funds only to recent grant recipients, it meant that in some states only a small number of groups could even apply. The stipulation by Congress that 40% of ARRA funds be distributed through states and regions ensured that jobs in arts organizations would be supported even in areas of the country where arts groups are sparse.

Third, the state portion greatly leverages federal support for the arts, stimulating support for the arts at other levels of government and from private sources as well. At least half of the state arts agencies were started by governors in response to NEA incentive grants in the 1960s and 1970s. Early on, NEA support made up half of state arts agency budgets; now, state legislatures typically allocate about nine times the NEA investment annually and two and a half to three times the total NEA budget—certainly one of the most successful of all NEA programs. It’s important to note that for many state arts agencies NEA support is still a quarter, a third or more of their budgets. In tough economies such as we are now experiencing, the support provided by the arts endowment is a vital source of stability, and can be an extremely important deterrent to state governments considering a radical cut to or the elimination of SAA funding.

It’s useful to note as well that state arts agencies have, through the work of their community development coordinators and their grant making, fostered the local arts agency movement. Even though distribution of locals is uneven and some states have only a few, state arts agencies most recently awarded 14% of their grant dollars (amounting to almost $40 million) to more than a thousand locals and to the statewide assemblies of locals. [See NASAA’s new fact sheet on SAA Support for Local Arts Agencies.]

Fourth, the state portion supports and diversifies the NEA mandate to advance excellence in the arts. State arts agencies support the majority of NEA grantees, and, on average, with twice as much money. In numerous states—Arizona, Illinois, Rhode Island and Tennessee, for instance—the state arts agency supports between 80% and 90% of NEA grantees. NEA dollars are improving the quality of participation in the arts through their direct grants to as many as 700 communities in a given year, and state arts agencies are complementing that work with annual grants in more than 5,000 communities.

The administration’s fiscal year 2011 appropriations request states, “As our public agency partners, SAAs greatly extend the Arts Endowment’s reach and impact, translating national leadership into local benefit.” The state arts agencies are strongly committed to maintaining and strengthening this “public partnership,” advancing the mission of the NEA, contributing to congressional support of the agency and leveraging state arts support.