Officials of the National Endowment for the Humanities said yesterday that the proposed 50 percent reduction in the agency's budget could eliminate some highly visible -- and expensive -- museum programs, traveling exhibitions, television series and other projects within the NEH's Division of Public Programs.
Among the possible cancellations, officials say, is "Odyssey," a television series about archaeology and anthropology now in its second season on PBS. NEH contributed $1.4 million to the second season's budget. "It's doubtful that can have a third season," said Martin Sullivan, head of NEH public programs.
Also uncertain are future projects such as "The American Short Story," a recently completed television series that the NEH considers one of its more successful ventures. "'The American Short Story' series cost between $164,000 and $230,000 a show, and there were 17 productions," said Sullivan. NEH contributed about $3.6 million to the entire project. "To have anything comparable to that in the future, considering inflation, would cost the NEH about $10 million. That will be substantially more than what we have for the whole media budget."
These were among the predictions NEH officials presented yesterday to members of the National Council on the Humanities, the body that advises the endowment. The council's quarterly meeting covered only two days after the Office of Management and Budget notified the NEH of plans to cut its fiscal 1982 budget from a requested $169 million to $85 million.
According to a budget document released earlier this month, the Reagan administration proposed the cuts to "reverse the trend" toward government funding of the arts and humanities, resulting "in a reduction in the historic role of private individuals and corporate philanthropic support in these key areas."
"It's clear that there will be more than 50 percent reduction in funding for public programs," Sullivan told council members yesterday, "because the administration budget of the endowment will not be reduced by that much."
NEH officials also foresaw the following possible changes in museum projects:
Support to museums for programs interpreting their permanent collections would be "seriously curtailed," according to Cheryl McClenney of the NEH's museum program.
Temporary traveling exhibitions would find "a tremendous reduction in the level of support. Itineraries will have to be cut. The number of museums to which exhibitions will be sent may be cut." Hardest hit would be the smaller exhibitions going to a variety of cities. For example, Sullivan said, it "would be out of the question" to fund traveling shows such as the Folger Library's "Shakespeare, the Globe, and the World," which is currently in Atlanta. The project received more than $400,000 from the NEH.
"Self-study" grants for small museums -- including a number of minority institutions -- "are going to suffer," said McClenney. "We're going to lose a large number of those groups. They simply won't feel they have the capacity to compete for smaller amounts of funds. And we won't be able to encourage them."
The endowment officials also expressed concern about how a shift in funds might affect Congress' attitude toward the NEH. Faced with "very little money, it would be logical to put money in workshops or conferences that strengthen skills in the humanities," said Sullivan. "Grants for those go to service organizations. They will help individuals, but the grants wouldn't be made directly to 435 congressional districts. And Congress is always anxious to see money going to individuals in those districts."