NEA Chair presents budget to House Committee

On April 13, Rocco Landesman, chair of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), appeared for the first time since his appointment before the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee to present the Obama Administration's Fiscal Year 2011 budget proposal. The $161.3 million budget, some $6 million below current funding levels for the agency, includes support for current programs as well as $5 million earmarked for a new initiative called "Our Town."

Landesman told the subcommittee that the NEA expects to reach "nearly 100 million people" through more than 2,000 direct grants the agency expects to award. The new NEA chair also addressed the impact of state arts agencies in assisting with the delivery of federal public arts funding.

"Our reach and impact go even further," Landesman said. "Through the 40% of our grant-making funds awarded to state arts agencies and their regional organizations, thousands of additional grants are awarded to support worthy projects in communities throughout our country."

Landesman said he has further challenged the NEA staff to fund at least one arts education project in every Congressional district.

The new "Our Town" initiative would offer grants in up to 35 communities to support "planning and design projects, and arts engagement strategies." Funded projects could include mapping of a cultural district along with its development potential; integration of public art into civic spaces; a community waterfront festival; affordable housing for low-income artists; rehearsal spaces that also serve as research and development space for performing arts companies; and outdoor exhibitions and performances to enliven civic spaces.

Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts (AFTA) also testified before the subcommittee and encouraged it to work again on a formal re-granting program for local arts agencies. Terri Aldrich, executive director for the Minot Area Council for the Arts in North Dakota told the subcommittee members that few arts organizations in her area qualify for direct funding from the NEA. Instead, she explained the NEA funding reaches rural arts organizations through the state arts agency.

The subcommittee may begin drafting funding legislation by the end of May.