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Proposed Arts Budget Cut Too Drastic, Study Finds : The arts: The private sector would be unable to fill in the gap if Congress' 40% reduction goes through, says the Rockefeller Foundation.


WASHINGTON — Private foundations will be unable to fill in the gap if Congress goes through with proposals to cut by 40% its funding of the National Endowments for Arts and Humanities, putting at risk the enormous growth in American culture since the agencies were created 30 years ago, according to research by the Rockefeller Foundation.

A sneak preview of the foundation's study of cultural philanthropy was given Tuesday at a meeting of the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities, a group of prominent citizens who advise the President on the state of arts and humanities in America. The committee asked the Rockefeller foundation to share its findings, which were initially planned for internal use only, as part of its effort to advise the President and the people on the potential impact of proposed budget cuts on the nation's arts and humanities.

"We have had 30 years of remarkable growth and achievement for American culture," Alberta Arthurs, director of arts and humanities for the Rockefeller Foundation told the group. "The cultural situation we have created in the last 30 years is a dense and delicate balance of private and public interests and funds. If it is disturbed, what will replace it?"

As a result of that combined public and private effort, since 1965, the number of orchestras in the United States doubled and the nonprofit theaters grew from 56 to 426, dance companies mushroomed from 37 to 450 and opera companies increased from 27 to 120, she said.

Although the 35,000 private foundations nationwide kick in more than $1 billion yearly to support arts and humanities, their contributions are focused on particular agendas and tend to be mainstream projects.

"Only the NEA and the NEH operate with a systematic approach to fostering the growth of the arts and humanities," Arthurs said.

Under proposals under consideration in Congress, the funding for endowments would be cut by 40% next year and phased out in three years. Currently the budgets for the NEH and NEA are $177 million and $167 million, respectively.

The challenge ahead, she said, is to find a way to sustain the diverse and rich cultural achievements at a time when the federal government is intent on cutting back.

"Private funding is not in a situation to make up whatever funding might be lost in the public sector," Arthurs said.

Her foundation, for instance, plans to reduce funding because of its own economic troubles. A survey of 40 other major foundations showed that none felt they could increase their funding in the arts, and some others also had planned reductions in their donations.

Enthusiasts for arts and humanities across the country are worried about the implications for the cultural wealth developed over recent decades in their areas.

"Los Angeles has a substantial number of cultural facilities, museums and individuals that rely on support of public and private sector. There is great concern about what the future will be," said Irene Hirano, executive director and president of the Japanese American National Museum in Los Angeles and a member of the committee. "The private sector will in no way be able to fill the gap. We will see a reduction in the services, number of performances and exhibitions."

The President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities was created by former President Ronald Reagan when he was trying to abolish the endowments. He later gave up that campaign, but the committee continued.

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