In a letter to the editor of The Hill, Americans for the Arts president and CEO Robert L. Lynch responded to an editorial calling for the elimination of the National Endowment of the Arts. The text of his letter appears below.
In his op-ed (“The case for cutting National Endowment of the Arts funding,” April 2), David D’Amato states that “Government-funded art is publicly-funded art only once government is lazily conflated with the public. It is not the public (whatever indeed that may mean) that decides which art projects are to be supported with taxpayer dollars.”
That statement is simply inaccurate. Mr. D’Amato must be unaware that the public is embedded in the entire grantmaking process at the NEA. This in part is why the NEA has received wide support from both Republicans and Democrats for half a century. It is panels of citizens—not government staff—that evaluate grant submissions and pass their recommendations to the White House-appointed, U.S. Senate-confirmed National Council on the Arts. Lists of panelists representing both citizen experts within every artistic discipline as well as lay people for each NEA grant discipline going back a decade can be found at www.arts.gov/grants/recent/panelists.
Additionally, state arts agencies receive 40 percent of NEA grantmaking funds and follow a very similar grantmaking process with citizen panels at the state level to re-grant NEA funds to local arts organizations.
The public is also provided access to NEA programs across the country. The NEA holds annual free public events, including the NEA Jazz Masters concert, Poetry Out Loud competitions, and the National Heritage Fellows concert. It distributes free research reports and publications, and offers free webinars on a variety of topics impacting the arts in communities of all sizes and regions. The public not only has access to programming in every Congressional district, but they also can attend public meetings in every state—a required component of each state’s federal partnership agreement. In addition, the public can interact directly with NEA Chairman Jane Chu through her extensive travels to all 50 states.
Mr. D’Amato even makes a case for protecting the NEA—$148 million is indeed “a drop in the federal budget bucket.” With this relatively small annual appropriation, the NEA’s investment in every Congressional District in the country contributes to a $730 billion arts and culture industry in America, representing 4.2 percent of the annual GDP. This arts and culture industry supports 4.8 million jobs and yields a $26 million trade surplus for our country. The vast contributions that the NEA has made, and continues to make, to our nation’s economy and communities must not be overlooked.