Submitting what in effect is his final budget proposal on Thursday, President Reagan for the first time is not seeking to slash federal funding for the arts and humanities.
In its budget for fiscal 1989, beginning Oct. 1, the Administration has requested the same amount of funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum Services that Congress has allocated for the current fiscal year.
The White House has proposed that the arts endowment receive $167.7 million, that the humanities endowment get $140.4 million and that museum services, which until last year the White House had targeted for elimination, get $21.9 million. Those figures were contained in the $1.1-trillion federal budget submitted Thursday.
"It is amazing, isn't it?" said Anne Murphy, executive director of the American Arts Alliance, the nation's arts advocacy organization. "As I said to someone here, in the mode of today's political climate, 'They heard the word and saw the light.' "
Rep. Sidney R. Yates (D-Ill.), chairman of the Appropriations interior subcommittee, which handles the arts and humanities budgets, said: "I'm delighted that at long last the Administration has recognized the important place of the arts and humanities in our country. He's (Reagan's) come a long way."
The arts endowment provides support for arts organizations--such as the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the San Francisco Opera--and artists as well as state arts agencies. The humanities endowment supports research, education and public programs in the study of history, philosophy, literature and other humanities. The Institute of Museum Services provides operating support to museums as well as to planetariums, aquariums and zoos.
"It's terrific," noted Martin Kagan, executive director of Opera America, the advocacy organization for the nation's operas. "They've (the Administration) finally learned--and hopefully we can build on that."
"It is nice not to have to argue for at least the same level as last year," said Jonathan Katz, executive director of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.
For most of its eight years, the Administration had been requesting cutbacks of 10% and more for the endowments over congressional allocations, and each year, Yates and his subcommittee have led the fight against those cutbacks. Indeed, in his first budget proposal Reagan sought to cut the arts endowment by half.
Just before President Carter left office in January, 1981, he submitted a $175-million arts endowment budget proposal for fiscal 1982, which Reagan promptly sliced to $88 million. Congress then appropriated $143.5 million. For the humanities endowment Carter that year proposed $169.5 million. Reagan cut the request to $85 million, and Congress then appropriated $130.6 million. Carter requested $16.9 million for museum services in fiscal 1982. Reagan cut the request to $194,000, and Congress appropriated $11.5 million.
Next January, Reagan will submit his final budget, but it will be subject to and will likely receive considerable revision by the new President.
"It (the new budget) came as a surprise," Yates noted, because of that history. "Going back to the first years," Yates added, "the arts and humanities were in (former budget director) David Stockman's black book of elimination."
To some, however, the budget turnabout was somewhat less surprising. The White House's numbers for 1989 matched the budgets for the three agencies that were in the more than $600-billion spending authorization bill signed Dec. 22 by Reagan.
However, a key Yates subcommittee staffer pointed out that "other agencies in our bill were not treated the same way" as arts and humanities. He noted that money in the proposed budget for "the Historic Preservation Fund is zero--that's grants to states to enable them to protect historic properties."
Murphy pledged to continue the fight for more money for fiscal 1989 at congressional hearings next month. "It's still not enough," she said. "Last year we asked for $200 million, and the needs aren't any less."
However Peter Zeisler, executive director of Theatre Communications Group in New York, the nonprofit theater community's advocacy organization, asserted: "As we used to say when the Brooklyn Dodgers were here, 'Wait till next year.' "
"Wait," Zeisler explained, "until the next administration."