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NEA Plans Nearly 50% Cut in Staff : Funding: With big budget cuts appearing all but certain, the arts agency will eliminate 89 jobs, as well as restructure and downgrade positions.

October 19, 1995|D'JAMILA SALEM | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — Responding to looming cuts in congressional funding, the head of the National Endowment for the Arts has announced plans to eliminate 89 staff positions, a move that will reduce the agency's work force by almost half. The staff cuts will come from all levels of the agency.

"This is the saddest day I have spent at the Arts Endowment," NEA Chairman Jane Alexander said in a statement. In addition to the staffing cuts, the agency made official a major restructuring of the agency that had been previously announced.

The NEA said it will divide its resources into four key categories--heritage and preservation; creation and presentation; education and access, and planning and stabilization. It intends to eliminate most individual artists grants. Organizations seeking grants will be allowed to apply for only one grant per year, the agency said.

According to NEA spokeswoman Cherie Simon, the NEA's former 17 programs have been consolidated into the four new categories, and all former program directors have been reabsorbed into positions within the NEA's new structure. In addition, 19 employees have been "downgraded" to lower-level positions. Simon said that approximately 50 program personnel have been let go, and that the rest of the layoffs come from various areas including management, budget and administration.

A House-Senate conference committee already has agreed to reduce funding for NEA and its sister agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities, by almost 40% during the 1996 fiscal year. But the conferees rejected a House attempt to abolish NEA over the next two years. The funding, part of the Interior Department appropriation bill, has not yet received final House and Senate approval, but big cuts in the agency's budget appear all but certain.

The compromise funding bill would provide the NEA with only $99.5 million in operating funds for 1996, compared to $163 million in 1995.

Although the arts and humanities endowments account for only a small fraction of the overall Interior Department funding measure, the NEA has determined adversaries who have objected to some of the agency's past grants to controversial artists.

In addition, Sen. Jesse Helms (R-N.C.), a longtime critic of the agency, has inserted language in the bill to prohibit funding of art that is considered "obscene" or that "denigrates a particular religion."

Alexander, a renowned stage, television and film actress who was appointed NEA chairman by President Clinton in 1993, praised the "dedication, skills and enthusiasm" of the terminated NEA's employees. The cuts will take effect in mid-December.

The National Endowment for the Humanities has launched its own restructuring effort.

Times staff writer Diane Haithman contributed to this report.

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