When the Republican candidate announced his intention to scrap federal funding for the arts, we published several contrary views. Here, in the interests of balance, we present an independent, non-GOP case for abolishing the NEA.
Eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts
The issue of funding for the arts has been, and probably always will be, a complex issue in America. Republican Presidential Nominee Mitt Romney has proposed reducing the amount of federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. While Governor Romney and I have wildly differing opinions on many subjects, I do agree with this position.
First, a couple of facts:
- Government funding for the arts totals only 13% of all funding, with 9% coming from the federal government and less than 1% coming from the NEA.
- 19.2% of the funding for local PBS member stations came from the Federal Government.
- The federal contribution to public media amounts to $1.43 per American per year. For radio alone, this amounts to only 32 cents.
As you can see, these numbers do not represent significant funding sources. Compared to the funding levels from the government for the arts in most European countries, the NEA budget is miniscule. Reducing or eliminating federal funding for the arts would not have near the consequences for America that it would in Europe.
Funding for the arts in America is complex because most arts organizations receive their funding from a variety of sources. According to the NEA, private funding accounts for 43%, earned income account for 44%, 9% from the Federal government, 3% from local governments, and 1% from state governments. As an employee of an organization that receives funding from state and local governments, I can speak from experience that the cost of preparing the paperwork necessary to receive grants far exceeds the benefit of receiving the grants. That fact, coupled with the declining award amounts, caused us to decide to discontinue applying for some of the government grants and pursue private foundation grants as well as other avenues for earned income.
Eliminating the NEA would change the mindset of the arts community. First, it would require that artists rethink their funding model. Would it cause fiscal problems for some arts organizations? Of course it would. The beauty of our complex system is that you can find examples of someone succeeding. For every Atlanta Symphony, who have locked out the musicians in order to avoid an anticipated $20 million debt, there is a Milwaukee Symphony, who recently announced that fundraising exceeded expenditures for the previous fiscal year. America is full of creative artists who, without being able to rely on steady government funding, have found an infinite number of creative ways to fund their artistic dreams. With 1,500 professional theaters, 1,200 symphony orchestras and 120 opera companies, America would not be lacking in the performing arts without the NEA.
Another benefit to eliminating the NEA would be to take away a favorite target of conservative politicians who like to energize their political base with promises of eliminating federal arts funding. Conservative politicians preach smaller government, although they rarely deliver, especially in the last few decades. They hope their constituents don’t realize how small a percentage of the total budget is represented by the arts. They also don’t go after the biggest arts item in the budget, the Smithsonian Institution.
Finally, it’s important to remember that Governor Romney has not proposed eliminating arts funding. The beauty of the American system is that the President has very little authority to do so. Most of the funding is not under the control of the Executive Branch of the Federal government. His desire, and I share this sentiment, is that the American people support the arts directly rather than relying on politicians to grant a budget to an organization based on how it will benefit them in the next election.
Paul Scanling is the Music Director and Principal Conductor for The Atlanta Concert Band and the Director of the Concert Winds at Oglethorpe University. He is a graduate of Florida State University and has taught every age level from 2 year olds to adults. He will not be voting for Mitt Romney.