NEA opts to reduce size of grants, not the number of recipients

December 18, 1990|By Eric Siegel

The National Endowment for the Arts, faced with cutting $13 million in grants to individual artists and arts organizations because of a congressionally mandated funding formula, will do so primarily by reducing the amount of each grant awarded, an NEA spokeswoman said yesterday.

Spokeswoman Kathy Christie said the endowment hoped to substantially maintain the number of grant recipients.

But she conceded that "final decisions" about how to achieve the program cuts had not yet been made.

"We're looking program by program at how we can best do this and still maintain a support system," she said.

A report Sunday in the Los Angeles Times, citing letters sent by the NEA to congressional arts supporters, said the federal arts agency would drastically cut the number of grants it makes. While refusing to contradict that report, Ms. Christie said she "wouldn't count on that" happening.

However, she did confirm that at least one category of grants, a museum purchase program designed to assist museums in acquiring contemporary American art, would be eliminated. Last year, the NEA awarded a total of $700,000 to 60 museums for this purpose, including $20,000 to the Baltimore Museum of Art.

The reductions in grants are needed because Congress, in agreeing to reauthorize the NEA for three years after a bitter battle over government funding of objectionable art, mandated that the percentage of funds awarded to regional and state arts agencies be increased from 20 to 30 percent in the current fiscal year. The dollar value of that increase is nearly $12 million, with increased administrative costs further reducing the amount of money available for grants. (The total NEA allocation for this year is $175 million.)

Ms. Christie said each state would receive an increase of approximately $90,000 in its basic grant. That increase would bring the amount of money given to the Maryland State Arts Council to nearly $500,000.

Additional money is awarded to the states through direct grants to local agencies, regional programming grants and a new category of competitive grants designed to bring more arts activity to rural and inner-city areas.

Ms. Christie said the NEA's challenge grant program, offering one-time grants to organizations for projects having long-term impact, would not be affected by the reductions.

The NEA is scheduled to announce several million dollars worth of such grants on Thursday.

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