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Cultural Politics: House Appropriations Committee Lacks Art Appreciation

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It’s not yet time to panic, but if you care about federal arts funding, it is time to make some noise.

The House Appropriations Committee’s proposed Fiscal 2014 Budget (beginning Oct. 1) for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, includes what would be, if adopted, draconian cuts in the budgets of arts-related federal agencies and museums.

The following percentage decreases proposed by the Appropriations Committee (as summarized here) represent reductions from the levels originally enacted for Fiscal 2013 (which were later reduced by “sequestration” cutbacks). The committee proposed 19% overall cuts for Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, but the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities fared much worse: Their proposed budgets of $75 million apiece represent 49% reductions from their 2013 enacted (pre-sequester) appropriations.

Proposed cuts for both the National Gallery of Art and the Smithsonian Institution were 19% (to proposed funding levels of $104 million and $660 million, respectively).

This is but one step in the protracted budgetary process, which began in April with President Obama’s proposed budget. As Dewey Blanton, director of strategic communications for the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), told me today:

The House Appropriations Committee is one player among many—albeit an important one—in the complicated budget process. As budgeting unfolds, the committee’s Senate counterpart will do its work, and other committees will influence the final budget that is eventually voted on in each House.

There will be other voices that need to determine the overall spending limit for the entire government, before the funding for individual programs will be determined by the House and Senate appropriations committees and other influential legislators.

The proposed budget for the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies is to be considered tomorrow by the House Interior Subcommittee (seven Republicans and four Democrats). During last year’s Presidential campaign, Republican standard bearer Mitt Romney made no secret of his desire to zero NEA and NEH.

In its June 22 editorial, Extreme Budget Cuts of 2014, the NY Times noted that House Republicans are now proposing increases “for their favorite programs,” while “demanding severe cuts from spending bills for which they have little use.”

Voters who do have use for culture should make their voices heard, early and often. Advocacy group Americans for the Arts has composed a sample letter to be sent to Congressmen and Senators, urging support for the President’s proposed $154.5-million NEA budget. Independent Sector, an advocacy group for the nonprofit and philanthropic community, is asking organizations to add their names, no later than this Wednesday, to this online letter urging Congress to preserve the endangered charitable deduction, which of crucial importance to the financial viability of cultural nonprofits, including art museums.

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