Chairman, National Endowment for the Arts
Prepared Statement Before The House of Representatives
Appropriation Subcommittee on
Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies
May 11, 2011; Washington, DC
Chairman Simpson, Ranking Member Moran, and distinguished members of the Subcommittee:
I am pleased to be appearing before you to discuss the President's Fiscal 2012 Budget Request for the National Endowment for the Arts of $146.255 million, which includes support for direct NEA grants; partnerships with state and regional arts agencies; a second round of Our Town investment; as well as program support efforts, staff salaries, and administrative expenses.
As you know, this request is consistent with the agency's Fiscal 2008 budget and would be a decrease of 13% from our Fiscal 2010 level of appropriation. We have worked to make the smartest decisions possible within the current fiscal reality.
We have been guided in these decisions -- as well as in the agency's grantmaking -- by our newly revised strategic plan, which has as a central theme the agency's desire to gather and communicate even more data and analysis about the impact of federal funding on the arts. This data will also allow the agency to refine and focus our investments in the arts to increase the efficacy and impact of our grants.
The NEA's mission is to advance artistic excellence, innovation, and creativity throughout the country, and we are asking each of our grant recipients to tell us how they will further this in one of three ways:
through the creation of art that meets the highest standards of excellence,
by engaging the public with diverse and excellent art, and
by promoting public understanding of the arts' contributions in the lives of individuals and in communities.
In Fiscal 2012, we will continue our investment in creative placemaking, through which we ask local political, civic, and arts leaders to work together to shape the social, physical, and economic characteristics of their communities. We will do this primarily through Our Town, which will invest $5 million in some 35 communities across the country.
We piloted this work through a series of grants we made in conjunction with our Mayors' Institute on City Design, which has worked with mayors for the past 25 years. One of our MICD25 grants was made to Shreveport, Louisiana, where the headquarters of the regional arts council had burned down. The mayor of Shreveport decided to create an opportunity out of this tragedy, and he partnered with the arts council to apply to the NEA for funds to design an adaptive reuse of a historic firehouse to serve as the arts council's new headquarters. This building will also serve as the heart of a 7-block commons that would serve as a creative center for Shreveport and a gateway to the city. The Commons will become a comprehensive arts district with rehearsal and studio space, performance and exhibition space, community services, religious institutions, restaurants, and businesses.
The NEA's $100,000 toward this project was leveraged into $5.3 million in total investment, three million of which came from private sources, including $300,000 from a national foundation that had never before invested in Shreveport.
There are similar stories throughout our MICD25 investments: Bethlehem, Pennsylvania is using NEA support to create a new town square with a major work of public art in front of its abandoned steel mill. Greensboro, North Carolina is creating a multi-use greenway to encircle its downtown and connect residential neighborhoods and business districts. Phoenix, Arizona is designing public art that will both beautify the downtown and simultaneously provide much needed shade for a weekly, outdoor market.
Throughout the country, mayors and towns are including the arts at the center of strategies to create more vibrant communities that will allow their citizens to prosper in place, and Our Town allows the NEA to partner with even more communities.
We are especially eager to make Our Town investments in rural communities and toward this end, have written the guidelines to allow entire counties to apply through a single application. Each application requires a lead public partner, and the 2012 guidelines will allow state arts agencies to be those lead partners and to receive funds directly for this work.
With a proposed appropriation that represents a 13% decrease from our 2010 level of funding, we have had to make some difficult decisions. We have worked to cut smartly and did not simply apply a flat, across-the-board decrease to all of the agency's programs.
One example of this is our proposal for Shakespeare in American Communities. As you know, this is a wonderful program, administered by a Regional Arts Organization, that provides funding for a stand-alone Shakespeare touring initiative. However, touring productions of Shakespeare are something that the NEA also funds within our core grantmaking in the theater discipline. We are proposing that rather than continue as a stand-alone program, we will instead encourage applicants to the Shakespeare in American Communities program to apply directly to the NEA theater discipline for support for their Shakespeare projects.
By bringing this program back in-house, we will be able to save $400,000 in costs and administrative expenses for a program that in many ways duplicated our core work: of the 40 recipients of Shakespeare in American Community grants awarded last year through the Regional Arts Organization, over half of them also received a direct NEA grant for their Shakespeare work. This was a second bite at the NEA apple for a small subset of arts organizations -- an option not available to the vast majority of theaters and arts organizations. We will continue to make the Shakespeare in American Communities educational materials available free-of-charge to all interested theatres, not just grantees, through arts.gov.
By taking this direction with Shakespeare in American Communities, we had the flexibility to be able to save programs that were not duplicated by the agency's other work. The Big Read, for instance, is an extraordinary program that gets books off the shelves, into people's hands, and transforms them into opportunities for citizens to come together and share a common art experience.
The YWCA in Knoxville, Tennessee, for example, hosted a discussion of Their Eyes Were Watching God in a community room that was part of a Knoxville Area Transit transfer station. Readers received free seven-day bus passes for participating, and this turned out to be the largest -- and one of the most active -- book discussions yet in the four years of Knoxville's participation in The Big Read.
Just as we have for the current fiscal year, in Fiscal 2012, the NEA will budget $1.5 million to support 75 Big Read grants across the country.
The state arts agencies are key partners in so much of the agency's work, in many cases despite the difficult budget realities that many states face.
State arts agencies, governors, and state legislators have come to the NEA for clarification on the requirements to receive NEA funding. The philosophy of the NEA's state partnerships has always been that a state arts agency is most effective when it is able to marry its state funds with federal support: a state arts agency is simply not a state arts agency when it receives no state support.
To emphasize this, we have requested a clarification in our legislation that specifies that the NEA's investment in a state arts agency must be matched at least one-to-one with funds that the state itself directly controls.
Understanding the unprecedented fiscal times in which we are operating, we are also seeking allowance to develop narrow guidelines for when this match may be temporarily waived. These would be published for public comment before being enacted.
We are also seeking a change to the NEA's Honorifics programs. As you know, since 1982, the NEA has awarded Jazz Master and National Heritage Fellowships to recognize the individual artists who have made exceptional contributions to their respective fields. In 2008, the NEA expanded its ongoing investment in these Lifetime Honors to also include the NEA Opera Honors.
This recent expansion sparked a conversation at the agency about the possibility of continuing to expand the Lifetime Honors to embrace the full spectrum of arts that the NEA supports. Toward that end, the NEA is seeking a legislative change that would allow the agency to honor artists who have made extraordinary contributions to American culture, regardless of discipline.
Let me end by touching briefly on two major areas of focus that require no additional investment in the NEA.
The first area is our collaboration with other federal agencies. Take, for example, the Department of Housing and Urban Development. As you know, Secretary Shaun Donovan is a huge champion of the arts and the role they can play in creating and sustaining vibrant communities.
When HUD released a Notice of Funding Availability for $100 million for regional planning efforts, the arts were included explicitly alongside integrating housing and transportation decisions, and incorporating livability, sustainability, and social equity values into land use plans and zoning.
When HUD announced the results of this NOFA, the arts were the centerpiece of many of these grants including: Hollywood, Florida; Rockford, Illinois; Evansville, Indiana; Greenfield, Massachusetts; and Radford, Virginia.
I am also talking with Health and Human Services about the ways in which the arts and human development intersect; with the Department of Education about the key role that the arts play in providing a complete, 21st century education; with the Department of Transportation about the role of the arts and smart design in connecting communities and neighborhoods; and with the Department of Agriculture about the role that the arts can play in creating and enlivening gathering places in rural settings.
In short, the NEA is positioning itself at the intersection of the arts and the everyday, and we are eager to share the arts with our sister agencies.
Finally, I would like to call your attention to Blue Star Museums, which is a partnership among the NEA, Blue Star Families, and museums across this country to grant free admission to active duty military men and women and their families all summer long. Last year was the first year of this partnership, and we launched with some 600 museums participating and ended up with over a quarter of a million military family members participating.
We are still almost two months away from this year's launch, and we already have enlisted over 1,200 museums who will welcome military families this summer.
Let me end by thanking the Chairman, the Ranking Member, and the distinguished members of the Subcommittee for your ongoing support of both the Agency and the arts in general.
I am now happy to answer any questions you may have, and I look forward to our discussion.
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