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NEA Gets Stimulus Right

The NEA has announced its plans for the funding it got in the stimulus bill, and the elligibility guidelines make a lot of sense.  Back in early February when the bill was going through congress I expressed concern about whether the NEA would use the funding in a deliberately stimulative way, and, as the Magic 8 Ball would say, “signs point to yes.”

According to the NEA website:

Projects are limited to:

  • Salary support, full or partial, for one or more positions that are critical to an organization’s artistic mission and that are in jeopardy or have been eliminated as a result of the current economic climate.


  • Fees for previously engaged artists and/or contractual personnel to maintain or expand the period during which such persons would be engaged.

All applicants must have received NEA support in the past four years, and according to the FAQ that limitation is aimed at reducing the difficulty of administering the grants–previous recipients have already been vetted and have demonstrated both artistic merit and the ability to follow the rules,  and already represent a broad range of arts, sizes, and locations.  Plus, to be effective the funding needs to be disbursed quickly, and working from a preexisting pool of applicants will expedite the process.

This strategy makes a lot of sense.  Focusing on existing jobs that are in danger ensures that the money will be genuinely stimulative, and job preservation turns out to be more valuable than job creation.  Here’s Ezra Klein on the subject:

On this, the economic literature is clear: A terminated worker’s next job generally offers lower pay, lower benefit levels, and lower status. He’s also less productive for the company: He doesn’t always know the sector as well and there’s a learning curve at any new place of employment. Meanwhile, keeping a company solvent through a hard few years is rather less expensive than inducing enough demand to create a whole new set of companies.

Many non-profit arts organizations have already been hit hard by the economic meltdown.  The Detroit Institute of Arts, for instance, is laying off 20% of its staff.  The Miami City Ballet has cut 15% of its dancers.  The Los Angeles Opera has laid off 17% of its staff.  Each of those articles lists more cuts to other organizations as well, and that was just a sampling of what I found in about five minutes of searching.  Here’s hoping the NEA stimulus can help mitigate the disaster.

The application deadline is 11:59 p.m., Eastern Time, on April 2, 2009.


Comment from david
Time: March 13, 2009, 1:37 am

I agree that the strategy makes sense. But…(sigh)… wouldn’t it be great if this economic crisis also provided the impetus to create a whole new structure of arts funding in this country? Unfortunately, the NEA has been decimated for years. I think it would be a great time to institute new programs along the lines of what the New Deal did in the thirties to directly employ artists and performers.

Consequently, I feel the same way about the stimulus at large really. It’s fine and necessary to pump money into fixing up bridges, etc. But, if we’re not just concerned about the immediate future, we should also be creating projects that build the infrastructure that our future economy will depend on (think– creating a new system of high speed rail along the lines of the interstate system). I think in addition to cushioning the blow to established arts nonprofits, we also need to be building the cultural infrastructure of the future.