Arts councils for states suffer 29 percent cuts

February 08, 1993|By Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- State arts agencies across the country have lost $83 million, or 29 percent of their funding, over the past three years because of budget problems at all levels of government, according to a report prepared by the National Endowment for the Arts.

Edward Dickey, acting deputy chairman of NEA and director of state programs, gave the report as members of the endowment's national council gathered here for two days amid an air of cautious optimism about the future of their controversial organization.

Some veteran members, including Catherine Yi-yu Cho Woo, poet and essayist who directs the China Studies Institute at San Diego University, said they hoped President Clinton soon would appoint a new chairman of national renown to lead the agency, often under attack by Bush administration officials and the religious right for allegedly supporting obscene or pointless works of art.

Mr. Dickey painted a grim picture he said could be improved by the kind of direction that a robust national organization provides. His report said that "distressing cuts brought on by state fiscal problems" have led a number of large states, including California, Florida and New York, to cut appropriations for the arts by more than 20 percent.

Mr. Dickey insisted that the cuts in state funding had nothing to do with controversy over artistic programs or works of art or with increases in NEA grants to any states.

"The fact of the matter," he said, "is that nearly every state has faced a budget crisis of some magnitude and this was the year that the bottom fell out. It was as if all our governments hit the wall at the same time, and none of them hit the wall harder than the states."

Because many states are required by law to have a balanced budget and cannot accumulate debt, spending cuts have been felt across the board and "discretionary programs" like support for the arts "have been under severe pressure," Mr. Dickey reported.

Unlike the transition teams that preceded President Reagan's inauguration in 1981 and Mr. Bush's in 1989, the Clinton group has seemed friendly to the agency and its work, some members said.

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