Pinching pennies

The stimulus package includes money forthe arts - but it’s mostly pocket change

Here’s the good news. One: The federal government’s economic stimulus bill, the $789 billion American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, includes $50 million in funding for the arts, administered through the National Endowment for the Arts. And two: It’s happening fast. The deadline for grant proposals is next week, and money could be on its way to struggling arts groups across the country before the end of summer—a lightning-quick turnaround for the federal bureaucracy.

“In order to stimulate you have to spend,” says Susan Boskoff, executive director of the Nevada Arts Council. “I would have been pleased to see a much larger stimulus package, and a much larger portion going to creative industries. We’re pleased we have some funding. We believe we can use it in a very timely manner, and a very targeted manner.”

The bad news? It’s not a lot of money. To begin with, $50 million is only .006 percent of the total stimulus bill. But it gets worse, because most arts organizations will be competing for $20 million out of that $50 million—which is being divided among 50 states and 13 territories. (The remaining $30 million goes to fund discipline-specific programs.)

Do the math, and that averages out to about $300,000 likely coming to Nevada to support arts programs, through the NAC. That money will then be divvied up across the state. Whether it will make any difference at all is a huge question mark.

According to the NEA’s website, the grant money must be used for full or partial salary support for “one or more positions that are critical to an organization’s artistic mission and that are in jeopardy or have been eliminated as a result of the current economic climate.” The money can also be used to pay previously engaged artists “and/or contractual personnel to maintain or expand the period during which such persons would be engaged.” In other words, the money can’t be used for marketing or even for operational support.

Among local arts groups, one of the big players seeking funding is the Black Mountain Institute, the prestigious literary center at UNLV. BMI is seeking $50,000—half to support its writing fellows program, and half to support a 2010 seminar on immigration, which will feature Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot Díaz.

“Our budget on the state side has been cut dramatically,” says Carol Harter, executive director of BMI. “So virtually all of our programs and activities … all of that I have to raise privately, which I’m doing constantly.” That’s not exactly an easy prospect, either. Harter says she lost $200,000 from a private donor after he pledged the money. “The fiscal times we are in [are] making it extremely difficult to raise money.”


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