Cultural institutions preparing for federal budget cuts


Patrons walk through the National Gallery of Art in Washington, Friday, April 8, 2011, as Congress continues to debate in hopes of avoiding a government shutdown. (Alex Brandon/ASSOCIATED PRESS)
February 28, 2013

Federally funded cultural institutions are preparing for the $85 billion in automatic spending cuts known as the sequester that are scheduled to take effect Friday. Most institutions have anticipated the cuts and will meet budget constraints through delaying maintenance and repairs to their facilities. Others, including the Library of Congress and the National Gallery of Art, are preparing for furlough days in the coming months, and the staff reductions would force the gallery to close for up to seven additional days.

The gallery’s furloughs would begin in June and take place on up to seven Mondays, spokeswoman Deborah Ziska said Thursday. The furloughs would force the gallery, which is open every day except Christmas and New Year’s Day, to close its doors to the public for those days. The gallery is likely to have over $5.7 million cut from its $128.4 million budget for the fiscal year.

At a House appropriations subcommittee hearing Wednesday, Librarian of Congress James H. Billington testified that the library’s budget will be reduced by 5.3 percent, or more than $31 million. Seventeen percent of that reduction would come from four furlough days through the end of the year. Other library cuts include reductions in bookbinding and book preservation and a reduction in acquisition amounting to more than 400,000 collection items. There will be delays for information requests from the Congressional Research Service, an increase in the backlog of claims to the U.S. Copyright Office and cutbacks in basic operational services such as security, cleaning and food service, according to Billington. There will also be a reduction in the availability of reading material provided to the blind and physically disabled.

Museums and arts institutions have not received official budget reductions from the White House Office of Management and Budget, but they are expecting reductions to their annual budgets for the fiscal year of between 5 and 6 percent.

The Kennedy Center, which functions both as a memorial to former president John F. Kennedy and as a performing arts center, is expecting a $1.8-million cut from its annual operating budget of $200 million for this fiscal year, according to spokesman John Dow. Federal funding for the Kennedy Center is used solely for maintenance of the facility and does not affect programming.

The center is expecting to delay some repairs, which “could have a negative impact on the condition of the building,” Dow said. “We’ve been proactive, and we don’t expect personnel reductions, but this will be a challenge for us in the long term.”

The budget cuts will not affect the Kennedy Center’s recently announced $100 million expansion project, which will be financed by private fundraising. Only about 50 employees of the Kennedy Center’s 1,200-member staff could be affected by the budget cuts. Federal employees of the Kennedy Center work in maintenance, facilities and security.

Smithsonian Institution officials say budget cuts will not dramatically affect museum visitors. The cuts total about $40 million, or about 5 percent of an $811.5 million federal appropriation, and “the good news for the public is we’re going to absorb that $40 million through a number of ways,” said spokeswoman Linda St. Thomas. The cuts will mainly come through the delay of repairs, maintenance and equipment purchases. There will be reductions in staff travel and a hiring freeze. The Smithsonian is not planning furloughs, and the museums and the National Zoo will be open their normal hours, seven days a week. St. Thomas said construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture, scheduled to open in 2015, will continue, as will work on the Arts and Industries Building, scheduled to reopen in the summer of 2014.

The National Endowment for the Arts will also incur a 5-percent reduction, totaling $7.3 million of its $147 million budget, a spokeswoman said. The 5 percent will be prorated equally between grants and the administrative budget.

Other institutions are less certain where budget cuts will occur. A statement from the National Archives said the impact would be “noticeable and negative,” including cuts to programs ensuring long-term public access to federal records.

Katherine Boyle reports on arts, museums and culture for the Style section.
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