Advocates go to Washington in Support of the Arts

By Maddie Orton
Arts Correspondent

At National Arts Advocacy Day, delegates from New Jersey sit down with each of their Senate and Congressional offices on Capitol Hill to make the case for pro-arts legislation and jockey for the National Endowment for Arts’ position in the upcoming federal budget.

“Funding from the NEA to New Jersey groups through the state arts council really helps to offset costs related to outreach and education programs, and make prices affordable,” explained ArtPride NJ Executive Director Ann Marie Miller.

NEA funding peaked at $176 million in the early 1990s and has fluctuated since then, remaining level for the last three years at $146 million (aside from an unforeseen hit last year due to sequestration). Arts advocates are requesting an increase in appropriations to $155 million.

“The bump is to try to restore funding to the previous level,” Miller said. “It hasn’t kept up with inflation. It really has depended upon the resources available in the total budget.”

The issue may be national, but the impact is local. NEA funding goes directly to 24 New Jersey arts organizations, like NJPAC, and funds a portion of the New Jersey State Council on the Arts.

Representative Leonard Lance is co-chair of the Congressional Arts Caucus. He calls this a “prudent use” of federal spending, pointing to a multiplier effect.

“For every dollar in federal taxpayer funds that is appropriated, there’s roughly a nine-fold increase over the course of the entire year throughout the United States,” Lance said.

Still, with a $17 trillion national debt, not everyone thinks increased or even level funding for the NEA is a good idea. In fact, an amendment to eliminate NEA funding altogether for 2011 was offered by New Jersey Representative Scott Garrett. He could not be reached for comment.

For advocates, NEA funding is only part of the agenda. They are also looking for support on legislation like the Artist-Museum Partnership Act, a bill to provide a tax deduction equal to fair market value for artists donating their own work.

“As an artist, the only thing that you’re allowed to deduct is the value of the materials you used. So, if I’m a painter and I’ve created a work, I paid $23 for a canvas and $17 for paint, I get a $40 deduction and that’s it,” explained Finance Arts LLC President David Gray. “Whereas you, if you had bought one of my works back when I was starting out and it’s worth $50,000 today, you get to donate it and deduct the full $50,000.”

“It discourages the donation to the museum and what that has done since 1969 when the regulations changed, it has reduced the number of works coming into our collections,” said Newark Museum Director and CEO Steven Kern.

Legislation like this can remain on the table for years. Still, arts advocates look for new opportunities to find resolutions and promise to continue reaching out to legislators as the budget process continues.