They’re already been battered by drastically lower corporate support–Pfizer’s departure and Borders’ financial struggles eliminated two huge sponsors, and the economy reduced most of the rest–and beaten down by lower government support.
But that’s the old bad news. The new bad news is that President Obama’s proposed 2012 budget cuts funding for the National Endowment for the Arts from $167 million to $146 million. The worse news is that House Republicans want it cut to $124 million.
Mostly because of the drop in federal pass-through money, the state’s overall arts funding in Washtenaw County already has plummeted from $1.5 million to $175,000 in the last ten years. And whichever budget passes, local arts organizations stand to lose more.
“The effect on our members will be severe,” says Susan Froelich, interim president of the Washtenaw County Arts Alliance. “In most times, we’re just getting by, and a down economy hits arts organizations harder than most organizations because we don’t have many additional sources of revenue.”
The Kerrytown Concert House, for example, depends on NEA grants for Edgefest, the avant-garde jazz program that helped place it among Downbeat magazine’s top 150 jazz venues in the world. “We’ve had NEA grants for all of the Edgefests for six years except for one,” says Deanna Relyea, the concert house’s director. “It literally makes the festival happen.”
Artrain also has a lot to lose. “We have been an NEA recipient since 1973,” says director Debra Polich, “and we regularly get between $30,000 and $140,000 about every third year.” Artrain also receives funding through the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, but that’s down from $21,500 in 2002 to $7,500 this year.
Cuts will have an effect not only on members, but on the Arts Alliance itself. “We sent in a letter of interest for a $50,000 grant for [the proposed artists center at] 415 West Washington, and if we’re selected, we may not get as much money–or no money at all,” says Froelich. “Also, we got an operational grant of $7,500 this year from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs, which, since most of their money comes from the NEA, may also be affected.”
Some local arts organizations have stopped trying for federal money altogether. “We used to get NEA funds a decade ago,” says Michigan Theater director Russ Collins, “but we stopped because the dollars were relatively small; it wasn’t worth the effort. We do get NEA money through the Michigan arts council, but nothing like we used to get.” Indeed: ten years ago, the theater got $78,200 from the state; it got $7,500 this year.
That’s a fraction of the hit the University Musical Society took: its annual state funding fell from $335,800 a decade ago to $15,000. Now the group’s NEA funding–$100,000 this year–is also at risk.
Asked how further cuts would affect the UMS, director Ken Fischer replies, “Till it becomes a reality, I don’t spend time thinking about it. Rather I do what I can–and encourage others to do so–to prevent reductions in the budget of the NEA by expressing my opinion to reps in the house and senate.”