President Reagan's budget proposals for fiscal 1988 for the arts and humanities, unveiled Monday as part of his overall trillion-dollar package, gave a new lease on life to the embattled Institute of Museum Services.
For the first time in several budget years, the Administration is no longer seeking to dismantle Museum Services, which provides key operating support to art, history, natural history and specialized museums, as well as to planetariums, aquariums, arboretums and zoos. In the budget for next fiscal year beginning Oct. 1, Reagan is recommending $19.2 million--just $2 million less than Congress allocated for the current fiscal year. Last year Reagan's budget called for $330,000 "only as required to terminate the agency in an orderly fashion."
"That is a surprise," said Rep. Sidney R. Yates (D-Ill.), chairman of the House Appropriations interior subcommittee in his Washington office, shortly after the figures were released. "For the first time the Administration recognizes IMS deserves an important place in the cultural life of the nation."
The decade-old agency, which has provided $110 million in grants since its inception, has survived periodic attempts by the Reagan White House to get rid of it. On each occasion Congress has overridden Administration wishes.
As expected, the 1988 Reagan budget also dealt with the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. It advocated lowered numbers.
For the arts endowment, the new budget calls for $145.2 million, slightly more than last year's request of $144.9 million, but about 12% lower than the current $165.1 million as determined by Congress. For the humanities endowment, it requested $126.9 million, nearly $500,000 more than last year's request, but about 8.3% less than the current $138.5 million.
Meanwhile Yates, whose subcommittee handles the arts budget, strongly hinted that Congress will exert its own will once again. "I'm inclined to think Congress will go for the same numbers again." He added that he meant the fiscal 1988 numbers will be "in the same vicinity" as the current budget.
Moreover with a Democratic-controlled Senate, Yates' House allocations are likely to carry greater weight. The new chairman of the Senate Appropriations interior subcommittee will be the incoming Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd (D-W. Va.).
Asked for comment on the Reagan budget, Anne Murphy, executive director of the American Arts Alliance, retorted: "What is there to say?"
Did she mean that the Reagan proposals didn't really matter? "Right!" Murphy replied. "He sends off the same guidelines, except for IMS. At least he's given up on that fight . . . because he was beaten. How many times do you want to be beaten, for $19 million in a trillion-dollar budget?
"Congress' role is to decide how much money (will be allocated)," Murphy added. "They've used (the budget) as guidelines before and they will do so as guidelines again--and they will use their own judgment."
Edward Able, director of the American Assn. of Museums, said: "We are extremly pleased to see that IMS and its worth to the museum community has finally been recognized by the Administration."
Lois Burke Shepard, a retired diplomat's wife who was chairman of Republicans Abroad before becoming director of Museum Services last spring, called a press conference Monday in Washington to hail the agency's new White House's seal of approval.
"It's very clear to everyone involved," Shepard said in a telephone interview, "that this program, now a decade old, is an established entity. It is the third branch of the National Foundation for the Arts and the Humanities, along with the two endowments--albeit, the baby sister.
"It's very clear to everyone involved that it's here to stay," Shepard added. "I think it's a model program in many regards, fulfilling the precepts of this Administration. We've been extremely clear in all our dealings with the museum community to have them understand that this is not an entitlement, it is an incentive program. The money that the federal government gives to various museums really is a terrific spur to encouraging private investment."
Sounding almost like those who testified last year before Yates' subcommittee on behalf of keeping the agency, Shepard continued: "There is not a place I go--to an art museum, a children's museum, a historical society . . . where they are not talking about their capital campaigns. It's very exciting; it means there is a real constituency out there and, if we can help spur the private community, that's terrific."
Shepard added that Museum Services has taken "a great hard look at conservation programs, and for the first time in this nation's hisotry we have a comprehensive conservation policy."
The federal cost for the conservation policy, with grants that are awarded on a matching basis, is $3 million, she said.