At the first congressional hearing on arts funding in twelve years, D.C.-based Americans for the Arts called on the federal government to restore funding of the National Endowment for the Arts to levels not seen since the 1990s, the Associated Press reports.
The House tried to eliminate all funding for the NEA in 1995 after the endowment had supported a number of controversial exhibitions. Although the agency survived, Congress slashed its budget by 40 percent in 1996 and 1997. The Bush administration's proposed fiscal year 2008 budget includes $128.4 million for the agency — an increase of $4 million — but arts advocates are calling for an appropriation of $254 million, which, after adjusting for inflation, would match the agency's all-time-high appropriation of $176 million in 1992.
According to Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, part of the rationale for the cuts in the '90s was that private funding would fill the void. That has not happened, however, with the share of philanthropic dollars directed to arts organizations over the last decade actually declining, resulting in an estimated $8.4 billion loss to the arts community. One reason for the decline, said Lynch, is that private giving to the arts has long been tied to the inherent endorsement of arts programs by the federal government. Lynch urged lawmakers to consider the economic impact of the arts in small towns and big cities, citing a 2002 study which found that the arts generate $134 billion in economic activity annually, $24.4 billion in tax revenue, and 44.5 million full-time jobs.
Lynch was joined on the Hill by more than four hundred advocates for the arts, including actor Chris Klein, Black Entertainment Television co-founder Sheila Johnson, and jazz musician Wynton Marsalis. "Our kids are uncultured and culturally ignorant all over this country," Marsalis said. "I think it's important for us, in this time, to set another tone for what our nation is about."