While the president's proposed 2006 budget, unveiled yesterday, slashed hundreds of domestic programs, cultural groups did relatively well.
The National Endowment for the Arts is a prime example. Since the early '90s, it has had a seesaw relationship with Congress and the White House. Ten years ago Republicans loudly called for its elimination. But the administration of President Bush has been gentler. Yesterday the White House didn't reduce its basic funding but it did propose a redistribution of funds for a popular program. If the White House plan is enacted, Challenge America, which has been sending arts groups and grants to every corner of the country, would lose 30 percent of its budget, but the overall NEA budget would be unchanged.
"Given the fact that 154 other agencies are facing cuts or elimination, we see the level funding of NEA as a show of support," said Felicia Knight, the agency's communications director. The administration asked Congress for $121.2 million for the NEA, the same amount it got in the 2005 fiscal year.
Its sister agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities, is also surviving well. The administration set aside $11 million for a new broad history initiative. The entire endowment would get $138 million, the same amount granted by Congress for 2005.
"President Bush has again demonstrated his commitment to strengthening humanities education, promoting excellence in scholarship and enhancing public knowledge of the humanities," said Bruce Cole, the agency's chairman.
The federal budget supports a variety of arts and cultural programs, from the sprawling Smithsonian Institution, now with 18 museums and the National Zoo, to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum to the National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs fund, a program designed to give Washington's museums an extra boost because they do not get state funds. The president's budget provides money for the National Archives and Records Administration, which displays historic documents and preserves other government papers, and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, which also functions as a presidential memorial.
In a $615 million request for the Smithsonian, the administration would set aside money for the final phases of renovation of the Old Patent Office Building, which is now devoted to the National Portrait Gallery and the Smithsonian American Art Museum. The museums have been closed for four years for the overhaul. The president's budget for the Smithsonian would provide money for revitalization projects at the National Zoo and three other museum buildings.
In the president's spending plan, a few programs received support for new initiatives.
The administration suggests giving $36 million to the National Archives for the development of a system that could retrieve all types of electronic records. The proposals also eliminate the agency's 40-year-old grantmaking program, which gave money to colleges, universities and local government archives. The 2006 budget request for the Archives is $323 million, an increase of 1.3 percent from 2005.
A $2 million item in the Institute for Museum and Library Services budget would go to a new program that would fund African American museums and train people for careers in African American history. The overall request for the institute is $262 million, up $21.5 million from a year ago. The portion of the institute that supports museums would get $39 million, a $4.1 million increase. The budget for libraries is $221 million, the same as this year.
The National Gallery of Art is slated for a $5 million increase that will go to salary increases and utility costs. Last year the gallery received $92 million.
The Holocaust Museum also got a boost of $2.3 million, to $43.2 million.
An analysis of state arts financing, released yesterday by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies, shows that funding has stabilized after three straight years of decreases. Last year, the report found, only 12 of 56 states and jurisdictions cut funding levels.