The National Endowment of the Arts’ first program of the Obama “Recovery Act” focuses on the preservation of jobs in the arts. But it upholds an adage quoted by Billie Holiday in “God Bless the Child“: “Them that’s got shall get.” Applicants must be organizations that have received NEA grants during the immediately prior four years (since 2006). The NEA’s announcement is crystal clear:
[R]ecogniz[ing] that the nonprofit arts industry is an important sector of the economy the Arts Endowment has designed a plan to expedite distribution of critical funds for the national, regional, state, and local levels for projects that focus on the preservation of jobs in the arts. . . This program will be carried out through one-time grants to eligible nonprofit organizations. . . All applicants must be previous NEA award recipients from the past four years. . .
This decision is understandable enough; the NEA may want to ensure that organizations it has supported already aren’t going to fold, rendering its previous assistance irrelevant, and if it wants to put money to work quickly, organizations that have already been vetted in the grants-awarding process are surer bets than those organizations needing to be scrutinized from scratch. Nor do I carry any brief against the NEA’s actions during the second term of President George W. Bush — NEA Chairman Dana Gioia was one of the most successful leaders of the Endowment in its distinguished history, turning around Congressional hostility that somehow surfaced during the term of President George H.W. Bush, managing against inestimable odds to promote literacy, Shakespeare, arts journalism and, yes, jazz.
But from the point of view of a mostly volunteer administrator of a non-profit arts organization that after 20 years of self-supporting activities is just now making its first bid for grant funding to the NEA (the Jazz Journalists Association, of which I’m president, is applying this month for $s to produce a major conference on jazz journalism early in 2010) it’s disconcerting that as far as salaries for hard-pressed non-profits go, newcomers may not apply. Maybe the NEA’s next initiative could encourage new groups and new arts jobs? Wouldn’t that empower change? And disprove the second line of Billie’s “God Bless the Child” couplet: “Them thats not shall lose”?