Arts 'ambassador' seeks silver lining in funding cloud

The prediction for arts funding lately has been what a weatherman might call "continued cloudy with periods of showers." Reagan budget cuts are expected to decrease federal support for cultural activities sharply, and the new tax bill is not expected to provide the incentive for a dramatic increase in private support.

But Daniel J. Terra, President Reagan's new ambassador-at-large for cultural affairs, insists that he is confident this negative picture can be reversed. In his view the bleak talk and intensified focus on the state of the arts will serve as a solid plus in the effort to rescue them.

"All that attention has been the greatest thing that could happen to the arts ," he argued during a stop here.

Mr. Terra, a Chicago area chemical company chairman, art collector, and former finance chairman of the Reagan election campaign chairman of the Reagan election campaign -- he raised $21 million -- has been hard at work in his State Department office on a five-point plan of action to step up cultural contributions from the private sector.

His plan will combine what he describes as a totally new concept for raising private funds nationally, drawing on challenge and matching grant theory, and tax credits designed to encourage both corporations and wealthy individuals to give more.

The Reagan "arts ambassador" will disclose specifics of the plan at the Aug. 16 Los Angeles meeting of the White House Task Force on the Arts and Humanities. Mr. Terra (representing the government), actor Charlton Heston, and Hanna Gray, president of the University of Chicago, serve as cochairmen of that 32-member group. It was created by President Reagan in mid-June and is due to report back to him in September with a plan for tapping the private sector for cultural contributions to a degree that would at least partially compensate for federal spending cuts.

Technically, the fiscal 1982 budget figure for the National Endowment for the Arts is still unsettled. Though it is unlikely to reflect the 50 percent cut first recommended by David A. Stockman, director of the Office of Management and Budget, this year's $158.5 million level could well be cut by as much as $40 million. And Congress's newly approved tax changes are not expected to benefit cultural activities that much. Indeed, the prospect for gains, says Mr. Terra, is "distinctly minimal."

The great hope for increased funding for the arts and humanities continues to center on the private sector. Last year 80 percent of the $3 billion in private contributions to cultural charities came from individuals. Corporations gave about $500 million. The son of italian immigrants and an engineer by training, Mr. Terra says he became interested in art and began to read about it 44 years ago when he married his wife, Adeline, an art major at Northwestern University. They began collecting English art and later moved into American art. Learning there was a dearth of American art museums in the Midwest, they decided to launch their own -- the year-old Terra Museum of America art in Evanston, Ill., a Chicago suburb.

Though Mr. Terra admits to some uncertainty as to whether the task force and Congress (which would have to approve any tax law changes) will support the plan he expects to unveil next week, he says he is confident that President Reagan will support measures to strengthen private funding prospects for the arts.

"I don't know of anybody who enjoys talking about the arts as much as he does ," says Mr. Terra. "There isn't anything he'd rather do for relaxation."

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