The National Endowment for the Arts has submitted a budget to Congress that reduces its overall funding by about 50 percent, as requested by the Reagan administration, cutting at least one major program by almost 80 percent.
The proposed buget total of $88 million for the NEA may be increased slightly, however, because the House Budget Committee voted Wednesday to restore $100 million to various endowments, including a $43 million proposed recision in the Corporation for Public Broadcasting funds and $57 million to be divided by the Appropriations Committee between the NEA and educational and research programs.
The proposed budget, even if additional money is added, is barely half the $175 million the Carter administration had budgeted for 1982 NEA funds, and represents about .003 percent of the entire national budget.
The most dramatic reduction, 80 percent, is proposed for the challenge grant program, which was stated during the Nixon administration in an effort to help arts organizations with long-range planning to achieve more stable financing. Challenge grants are made on a three-to-one basis, with the organization raising three dollars from the private sector for every federal dollar. the challenge grant program, according to the NEA's proposal, has brought "one-half billion dollars of sorely needed new funds into American arts organizations" in its four years, at a cost of $95 million.
For example, Martin Feinstein of the Washington Opera Society said that his organization had received a $350,000 challenge grant for this season, but with the proposed cuts "it doesn't look like it would even pay us to apply next year." Feinstein said the Opera Society, anticipating the cuts, had already started to adjust its budget, and was looking for more private funding. In addition, ticket prices, which fund one-third of the Opera's costs, will be raised so that all orchestra seats in the Open House will cost $35. (This year some cost $30 and others cost $21.)
The challenge gant program was cut to $2 million from about $13.4 million this year rather than cut regular program funds. Meanwhile, NEA administrative costs will increase by $530,000 due to inflation, fixed costs like rent, and an expected rise in applications from about 25,000 to 30,000. So, while there is less money to apply for, more people will be asking for it, and it will cost more to process each application.
Locally, the D.C. Commission on the Arts expects about a 50 percent cut in the $300,000 it gets from the NEA, which executive director Mildred E. Bautista said will have a "double whammy" effect on Washington arts groups. The NEA gives a total of $5 million to organizations here.
"Washington is strange in terms of fund-raising," Bautista said. "With the overall cuts, local groups will turn increasingly to us, because the private funding sources here are limited. We have a small corporate sector and only three major foundations. Those three foundations gave a combined total last year equivalent to what the sixth-largest foundation in Philadelphia gave, so you see our problem."
Other proposed cuts include eliminations of "out-reach" programs, including subsidies for free programs for special constituencies like the handicapped, veterans and the elderly. Major programs like theater, museums and music will be cut by 40 percent, and dance by 36 percent. Overall, programs will be cut by 45 percent.
The impact of the cuts will be "extremely serious," said Tom Fichandler of Arena Stage, which got a $240,000 grant from NEA this year. The 40 percent cut in theater funds could make it impossible for Arena to balance it's budget next year, he said. If the proposed cuts go through unamended, Fischandler said, it would be an act of "irresponsibility toward the arts in this country."
Hearings on the Nea budget are scheduled for late this month and early May.