Reagan's 'lean' budget: now it's up to congress; Federal grants for arts -- 'to be, or not to be'?

Ronald Reagan wants to make some of his severest budget cuts in areas most nearly related to his former acting and sports announcing professions: the arts, humanities, and broadcasting.

If the President gets his way, federal support of the National Endowment for the Arts, and National Endowment for the Humanities will be chopped nearly 50 percent. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would see its budget cut by 25 percent.

Government spending in these areas represents a relatively minor portion of federal outlays, less than $500 million out of a total budget approaching $700 billion. But initial indications from Capitol Hill are that Mr. Reagan may have more than a small fight on his hands.

More than 130 members of the House of Representatives have rushed to join the "congressional arts caucus" formed by Rep. Fred Richmond (D) of New York, an art patron and former swing band leader. On the Senate side, a bipartisan group (including such heavyweight Republicans as Barry Goldwater and Charles Percy) are urging fellow senators to go on record in support of the arts.

The President argues that Washington has become "the financial patron of first resort," and that this has led to "a reduction in the historic role of private individual and corporate support."

While it is true that federal funds for the arts, humanities, and public broadcasting have grown rapidly under recent administrations (Republican and Democrat), private and corporate giving has swelled as much if not more. Business support for the arts jumped from $22 million to $436 million between 1967 and 1979.

Arts supporters insist that federal matching grants programs, as well as the state and local arts agencies that have sprouted in recent years, have stimulated -- rather than supplanted -- private cultural support. They also point to studies showing that every public dollar spent on art or culture generates several times that amount in tax revenues from the money theatergoers and the like spend on related items (shops, restaurants, transportation, etc.).

The Reagan administration expects corporate support for the arts to pick up much of the slack caused by federal cutbacks. But a recent article in the Wall Street Journal was headlined: "Companies Doubt Their Arts Giving Would Rise to Offset Reagan's Cuts."

Hardest hit, those in the field say, would be the smaller, less traditional performing arts organizations and exhibiting artists that need federal grants to establish credibility. Humanities endowment chairman Joseph Duffey says that his agency (whose grants include those for such scholarly work as the editing of the private papers of Dwight Eisenhower and Frederick Douglass) will have difficulty finding private support.

Both the arts and humanities endowments in the past have contributed to public broadcasting projects.

Robben W. Fleming, president of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, points out that under federal law, CPB is guaranteed "advanced year funding" (in this case, through 1983) to reduce political pressures and provide for longer range program planning.

Louis Harris found that 85 percent of those Americans he polled would be willing to have the government spend an additional $5 per capita on the arts.

Still, there is some acknowledgement within the cultural community that budget cuts -- while to a lesser degree than the President wants -- probably are inevitable notwithstanding the broad public and congressional support.

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