Government funding for the arts continues to be a political hot potato in the American cultural kitchen – and it continues to survive, if on a considerably leaner diet than is common in European nations, where the arts tend to thought of as a considerably more integral part of the larger culture. If the American fiscal water tap isn’t exactly open full blast, at least it’s still running. And this week, amid a flurry of moves and countermoves on the national budget, it’s filled a couple of pots.
On Wednesday the National Endowment for the Arts announced its latest round of project grants – $25 million nationally, including $412,500 in Oregon and $915,500 in Washington state. And on Thursday, the Oregon Arts Commission, which gets a significant amount of funding from the NEA, announced $59,000 in visual arts fellowships – small but key grants to encourage and develop new work.
That the work of the federal endowment in particular continues to be done is a small victory. Almost immediately after taking office a little more than a year ago President Trump set his sights on the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities, as well as funding for public television, vowing to eliminate all federal funding for them. But he and Congress have had other fish to fry, and both endowments have had enough bipartisan support to continue, with the NEA’s at a relatively tiny but important $149.9 million.
Wednesday’s tough-fought spending agreement in the Senate, which bumps the federal government’s nonmilitary spending limit upward by $63 million and $68 million in the next two years, suggests that the endowment budgets will survive again, although a budget battle still looms in the House.
[Bulletin: Sen. Rand Paul’s stand against the increased spending in the budget bill caused the Senate to adjourn late Thursday night without an agreement, forcing at least a short-term government shutdown. The Senate is expected to re-adjourn for a series of votes beginning at 1 a.m. Friday. But this is Washington, D.C., in 2018: anything might happen.]
[Friday morning update: The Senate broke its impasse, the House approved the new spending bill, and the president signed it in the early morning hours, ensuring (among many other things) the arts and humanities endowments’ future for at least two years.]
It’s unlikely but not impossible that the endowments, which have been targets of the fiscal and social right almost since they were created in 1965, could end up on the chopping block again. They are pawns in a much larger game, and increasingly, powerful political players are unafraid to sacrifice their pawns in search of bigger victories on the board.
In the meantime, the NEA continues to do business while it can. Its latest round of project grants includes 21 for projects in Oregon, ranging from $70,000 to the Oregon Shakespeare Festival for its American Revolutions cycle of history plays to $10,000 each for Crossroads Carnegie Art Center in Baker City (after-school arts programs leading to a public art project) and Playa, in the south central Oregon community of Summer Lake, for artist and scientist residencies. Small seeds, big possibilities.
Government cultural grants in the United States are rarely huge, but at the federal, state, and local levels they often serve the crucial role of signaling potential private and foundation donors that an organization or individual artist is worthy, which helps leverage further donations.
The other 18 NEA grant recipients in Oregon:
- Southern Oregon Film Society, Ashland, $10,000 to support the Ashland Independent Film Festival.
- Eugene Ballet, Eugene, $15,000 to support the premiere of the multimedia ballet Peer Gint.
- Joint Forces Dance Company, Eugene, $10,000 to support national teacher training in the DanceAbility Method.
- Oregon Bach Festival, via University of Oregon, Eugene, $25,000 for commissioning and performance of a work by American composer Richard Danielpour.
- University of Oregon, Eugene, $12,500 to support Unparalleled, a series of workshops and exhibitions featuring design in Oregon.
- Artists Repertory Theatre, Portland, $10,000 to support the premiere of the E.M. Lewis play Megellanica.
- Chamber Music Northwest, Portland, $20,000 to support the summer festival.
- Circus Project, Portland, $20,000 to support introductory circus art training and performance options.
- Miracle Theatre Group/Milagro, Portland, $10,000 to support production of Astucias por Heredar.
- Network of Ensemble Theaters, Portland, $15,000 for a national gathering and symposium of ensemble artists.
- Oregon Ballet Theatre, Portland, $10,000 for creation and performance of a new work by Darrell Grand Moultrie.
- Oregon Symphony, Portland, $20,000 to support a collaborative music project.
- Portland Center Stage, Portland, $15,000 to support its annual summer JAW new plays festival.
- Portland Institute for Contemporary Art/PICA, Portland, $40,000 to support its annual Time-Based Art (TBA) Festival.
- Portland Playhouse, Portland, $15,000 to support the premiere of the musical Scarlet, based on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel The Scarlet Letter.
- Profile Theatre, Portland, $10,000 to support residency activities and development of a community production through the Community Profile program.
- White Bird, Portland, $40,000 to support its Uncaged dance series.
- Young Audiences of Oregon, Portland, $25,000 to support a professional development program for teaching artists.
THE OREGON ARTS COMMISSION’S 2018 individual fellowships for visual artists, meanwhile, are relatively small but important grants to help artists keep working. The biggest, $5,000, is the Joan Shipley Award to the Toronto-born Portland artist Jess Perlitz, whose projects “take the form of performance, sculpture and drawing, and have appeared in a variety of sites, from playgrounds and fields to galleries and museums.”
The other 18 fellowship artists, each of whom receives $3,000, are: Mona Lisa Ali Alzghoul, Pat Boas, Ben Buswell, Penelope Caldwell, Srijon Chowdhury, Rene Couture, Jeremy Okai Davis, Jack Featherly, Damien Gilley, Stephen Hayes, Cynthia Lahti, maximiliano, Akhiko Miyoshi, Ethan Rose, Heidi Schwegler, Naomi Shigeta, Lou Watson, and Amanda Wojick. Wojick is from Eugene, Alzghoul from Beaverton, and Couture from Glide. All of the others are from Portland.