The cast of "Elemeno Pea," a play staged earlier this year by Mixed Blood Theatre, which received a $100,000 NEA grant. Photo by Bruce Bisping.
While funding for the National Endowment for the the Arts goes through a legislative tug of war between the pro- and con-NEA factions of Congress, this year's belt-tighteners on the House Appropriations Committee are calling for a staggering decrease -- 49%, or virtually half of the $146 million currently allotted.
An amendment to restore the funding was defeated along a party-line vote of 19-27, and discussion has now been suspended until mid-September.
"What usually happens is, the House proposes a cut, the Senate proposes an increase, and then there's a compromise later," said Sheila Smith, director of Minnesota Citizens for the Arts.
Minnesota is often among the top ten states in total NEA monies received. This year, it ranked eighth, with 28 grantees including Mixed Blood Theatre, Northern Spark and Graywolf Press receiving $877,500, an increase of more than $100,000 from the previous year.
If enacted, the proposed cut would be the largest in NEA history. That record is currently held by fiscal year 1995-96, when $162 million was slashed to $99 million. Beginning in 1967 with $2.9 million, the annual NEA appropriation peaked in 1993 at $176 million.
"The appropriations process is a mess and it's very likely they'll have to resort to a continuing resolution, but including this cut in formal committee legislation makes it a real threat," said Narric Rome, director of federal affairs for Americans for the Arts. The last time a large cut made it that far was in the early 1990s, he said.
"We usually have defeated these big cuts, but the world is an unpredictable place," Smith said. MCA is urging pro-arts voters to contact their legislators.