NASAA Notes: May 2010


Thomas L. Birch Headshot

Thomas L. Birch

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May 11, 2010

NEA Chair Testifies on Arts Budget; Arts Education Testimony in Senate

Appearing before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee on April 13, Rocco Landesman, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), presented the Obama administration’s budget proposing $161.315 million for the federal arts agency in fiscal year 2011, some $6 million below the arts endowment’s current funding. Landesman testified that funding at the reduced level “includes support for our ongoing activities, as well as $5 million for a new initiative we refer to as Our Town.” Landesman was welcomed to the hearing by the subcommittee’s new chair, Rep. Jim Moran (D-VA) and the ranking Republican, Rep. Mike Simpson (R-ID).

At the beginning of his prepared comments, Landesman explained that the NEA expects to reach “nearly 100 million people” through more than 2,000 direct grants expected to be awarded. Pointing to the role of the states in arts funding, he demonstrated that “our reach and impact go even further; through the 40% of our grantmaking funds awarded to the State Arts Agencies and their regional arts organizations, thousands of additional grants are awarded to support worthy projects in communities throughout the country.” In addition, he allowed that he has “challenged my staff to fund at least one arts education project in every Congressional district.”

In his testimony, Landesman described his recent visits to a number of states, specifically Pennsylvania, where “the Governor cited the Pennsylvania Cultural Data Project, which reports that in Pennsylvania alone, nonprofit cultural organizations and their audiences had direct expenditures of $1.99 billion, which supports over 48,000 full-time equivalent jobs and means over $900,000,000 in resident household income,” and Idaho, where he joined in a visit with “Congressman Simpson in his district to see how art works in Boise, Jerome, and Twin Falls, Idaho.”

Presenting the details of the administration’s budget proposal, Landesman explained that the American Masterpieces initiative, proposed for elimination in 2011, was funding projects “largely redundant to the support being offered through our core discipline grants.” Only The Big Read would continue, with $1.5 million in funds. Of the remaining $10 million for American Masterpieces in the FY2010 NEA budget, $5 million would go to the new Our Town program, and the balance toward offsetting any differences between the NEA’s FY2010 and 2011 allocations for direct grants, given that the overall proposed funding level is below the 2010 appropriation.

The new Our Town initiative described by Landesman would offer grants in up to 35 communities to support “planning and design projects, and arts engagement strategies. The funded projects might include the mapping of a cultural district along with its development potential; the integration of public art into civic spaces; a community waterfront festival; affordable housing for low-income artists; rehearsal spaces to serve as research and development space for our performing arts companies; outdoor exhibitions and performances to enliven civic spaces and engage citizens; and on and on.”

When asked by Rep. Simpson what he would do with an appropriation of $180 million, Landesman replied that it would enable the NEA to “do more with Our Town.” In response to a question about reinstating direct grants to individuals, Landesman said that “support for artists is not part of my agenda this year.”

In addition to Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY), who chairs the Congressional Arts Caucus and appeared at the hearing to praise the work of the NEA, the hearing offered testimony from other witnesses representing a variety of perspectives. Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, recalled the leveraging value of the NEA’s former program of support for local arts agencies and said that he would “encourage this subcommittee to work again on a formal regranting program” for local arts agencies.

Terri Aldrich, executive director of the Minot Area Council of the Arts in North Dakota, testified to the subcommittee that very few arts organizations in her community qualify for direct NEA grants. Instead, she explained, the NEA funding reaches rural arts organizations through the state arts agency, which she called “a tremendous resource for rural communities.”

Other witnesses included actors Jeff Daniels and Kyle MacLachlan, Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, Ovation CEO Charles Segar, and Brigadier General Nolen V. Bivens retired from the U.S. Army.

Arts Education Testimony at Senate Hearing

The Senate Health, Education, Labor & Pensions Committee heard testimony on the contributions of arts education at a hearing on April 22 titled “Meeting the Needs of the Whole Student,” one of a series of hearings before the committee as it considers the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.

Of the 10 witnesses appearing before the committee, one talked about the integration of the arts in school curriculum: Nikki Rittling, a teacher and integration team leader at the Willards Elementary School in Wicomico County on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Rittling explained in her testimony that Willards, as a farming community, “lacks a variety of cultural and arts experiences nearby.” Until the school implemented an “arts integration program” seven years ago, Willards, a targeted Title I school, had struggled with low test scores in reading and math. Now, test scores have risen, and the school ranks in the top three in the school district and is the only targeted Title I school at the top of the ranking.

Rittling explained that the arts program at the Willards school involves “daily integration of the arts into the curriculum” and artists in residence who “work cooperatively with the classroom teachers to align their art form with the core curriculum.”

Other witnesses at the hearing also referred to the ways in which the arts education served students as an important component in their individual programs.