In a year when the other major orchestras of the United States are receiving reduced grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Symphony Orchestra has been given a substantial increase in its basic grant: up to $220,000, compared with $175,000 last year.
According to a member of the NEA staff, the increased funding for the NSO reflects the way NSO management has "gotten their act together" in the last two years. "With the orchestra's new staff members all working together," said Jan Stunkard, NEA program specialist in charge of orchestras, "the panel felt that they should be commended . . . It is a recognition of the strides they have been taking to get their house in order."
The new grant restores NEA funding of the NSO to approximately the same level as other orchestras with comparable budgets and programs. Grants had been drastically reduced two years ago because of management problems the orchestra was suffering at that time. While the general trend in NEA orchestra grants is downward this year, several other orchestras received increases, Stunkard noted, "because of artistic quality and growth aspects." Other orchestras receiving increased grants include the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, which went up from $20,000 to $58,000; the Oklahoma City Symphony ($40,000 to $50,000); the Colorado Springs Orchestra ($25,000 to $38,000); the Canton (Ohio) Symphony ($18,000 to $28,000); and the Eugene (Oregon) Symphony, a relatively new orchestra that was funded for the first time last year. The Eugene Symphony's increase was relatively small in absolute numbers but spectacular in percentage terms, from $2,000 to $16,000.
In contrast, the six orchestras that traditionally receive the top NEA grants--Boston, Chicago, Cleveland, Los Angeles, Philadelphia and New York--all were reduced from $300,000 last year to $280,000 this year. Most other orchestras with budgets of $2 million or more also had their funding reduced. The reductions reflect a total decrease of $500,000 in NEA grants to orchestras--$8.7 million this year as compared with $9.2 million last year.
Faced with reduced funds, the NEA launched a complete reevaluation of its grants this year, "without regard to earlier grant levels," according to Adrian Gnam, director of the music program. The general effect of the new system has been to "lessen the widespread inequality" that existed under the previous system, according to an announcement issued by the NEA.
Several orchestras--including those in Detroit, Miami and Kansas City, all of which have been suffering financial and managerial problems--have not yet had their exact grant amounts determined "due to variables within the season's planning," according to the NEA announcement.