Monday, February 14, 2011

NEA facing budget cuts, chairman talks of "decreasing supply" of theaters

Posted By on Mon, Feb 14, 2011 at 6:37 PM

Dads Garage artistic director Kevin Gillese says the idea of further cuts is deeply disturbing
  • Dad's Garage artistic director Kevin Gillese says the idea of further cuts is "deeply disturbing"

The National Endowment for the Arts, the federal agency "dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts," is facing a significant reduction in funding under the Obama administration's proposed federal budget for 2012. The budget request, released today, allots $146.2 million for the agency, a cut of $21.3 million from their current operating figures.

The NEA is best known for their annual grant awards, which go directly toward supporting arts organizations, writers, and other groups. Art Papers, National Black Arts Festival, Center for Puppetry Arts, and Seven Stages have been consistent recipients from Georgia in recent years. The grant awards typically assist with a particular project. Road to Freedom, a highly praised traveling exhibition of civil rights era photographs organized by Julian Cox for the High Museum, was executed with support from an NEA grant. GSU professor Josh Russell finished My Bright Midnight, a well-received novel published last year, with the assistance of a NEA grant.

NEA chairman Rocco Landesman's recent statements have not been a source of reassurance. In a story published Friday in the Washington Post, Landesman is quoted talking about the arts in coldly economic terms:

Asked about the significance of the declining attendance figures for the arts in this country, Landesman gave a characteristically unequivocal response: "There are too many theaters," he said.

"Look," he explained. "You can either increase demand or decrease supply. Demand is not going to increase. So it is time to think about decreasing supply."

How this attitude will affect NEA funding for theaters like the Alliance, Dad's Garage, Seven Stages, or the Center for Puppetry Arts (all of whom have been recipients of NEA grants in recent years) remains unclear. Kevin Gillese, a Canadian who relocated to Atlanta last year to serve as artistic director of Dad's Garage, says, "I am shocked at the lack of government funding for the arts here and the idea that it's going to decrease even further is deeply disturbing."

Responding to directly Landesman's statement, he said, "As to the question of supply and demand, here at Dad's Garage we're busting our asses to increase that demand by creating work that speaks to the next generation of arts patrons and by keeping our ticket prices affordable. We feel that we are adding value to the community in so many ways, just look at the residential and commercial developments that have sprung up around our space over the last decade. I'd like to think that there's value in continuing to support that kind of positive momentum."

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