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Despite shutdown, grants for arts and culture groups are back on track — at least for now

Arena Stage is among the local arts groups supported by NEA grants. (Linda Davidson/The Washington Post)
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The National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts will reopen Monday after being shuttered since Dec. 22 because of the partial government shutdown.

The federal cultural agencies provide crucial support to museums, libraries, artists and scholars across the country, and February is a critical time for their grantmaking decisions. The independent offices, created in 1965, each had budgets of about $153 million last year.

The agencies, which the Trump administration’s first two budgets tried to eliminate, will use remaining FY18 administrative funds to reopen for up to four weeks, officials said. The agencies hope to “minimize any interruption in the awarding of federal funds,” according to the NEH website.

“I want to underscore that since they are being taken off furlough, [employees] will receive all of their salary and benefits,” NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede wrote in an email.

Washington’s federally supported museums used a similar fiscal move at the start of the shutdown. The National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian museums and the National Zoo used reserve funds to stay open for the first 10 days of the shutdown, which coincided with the busy holiday season.

Trump’s budget NEA, NEH, public TV and other cultural funds. Again.

The NEH awards grants to cultural and educational institutions, scholars and partner agencies in 55 states and territories and the District of Columbia. The NEA supports theaters, dance companies and music and visual arts groups in all 50 states and the District, including such local organizations as Arena Stage, Ford’s Theatre and the National Symphony Orchestra. It also supports arts education and community arts programs.

The federal agencies have been closed and their federal workers furloughed since the government shutdown began Dec. 22.

Peede said that “prudent fiscal management” would allow its employees to return.

“Reopening now coincides with the critical workload in mid-January through February that is necessary to award spring grants,” according to a statement on the NEH website.

An NEA spokeswoman provided the same statement about its reopening.

Arts and humanities organizations have been struggling with the effects of the shutdown. California Humanities has suspended grants, and other NEH partner agencies have been tapping reserves and cutting expenses in anticipation of losing federal support.

Matthew Gibson, executive director of Virginia Humanities, another of the NEH’s state partners, said the field is concerned for the future.

“If this were to continue, I think we would have to think of other ways to tighten our belts,” Gibson said, noting that NEH funding makes up about 13 percent of his organization’s annual budget.

“This gives me hope, that there’s the will to want to continue the work [that] is critical to how we act in society and how our democracy is built,” he added. “We always say science and medicine can save our lives, but the humanities gives us the ability to ask why we live.”

The NEA and NEH play critical roles in the health of the nonprofit arts economy, said Robert L. Lynch, president and chief executive of Americans for the Arts, a national advocacy organization.

“The nonprofit arts economy in America is over $166 billion, and our federal government’s own research shows that the even larger creative economy, which includes the for-profit sector, is over $760 billion,” Lynch said. “The NEA and the NEH over the last half-century have been key to leveraging the growth of that cultural economy. To have them sidelined slows down the creative and economic momentum at a time when America needs them on the job.”