Why NEA Funding is Still a Big Deal

May 11, 2015


Last week the ArtPride NJ Foundation learned that it received a $10,000 grant award from the National Endowment for the Arts

Ann Marie Miller
Ann Marie Miller


With nine other arts organizations and the New Jersey State Council on the Arts’ Partnership Grant, New Jersey reaped just over $1 million in federal funds for this grant round.  ArtPride’s NEA award will provide support for web-based marketing that links the arts to cultural tourism destinations and partners in the hospitality industry — restaurants, hotels and retail merchants that benefit from a lively arts community.

So why is NEA funding still important?

In ArtPride’s particular case, this NEA grant will help the arts form stronger ties with tourism partners. The arts, history, and tourism communities all receive state dollars from the same source, the New Jersey Hotel/Motel Occupancy Fee, so this is ArtPride’s way of helping put the “heads in beds” that fuel that dedicated revenue stream. For other organizations like the Newark Arts Council, a significant NEA grant award of $50,000 will support a project called Arts Up!: Cultivating Creative Newark, a collective impact of the Newark Arts Education Roundtable

The Newark Arts Education Roundtable is a strategic alliance of arts education stakeholders, including public, charter, and private schools; artists; arts and cultural organizations; youth and community development entities; businesses; funders; and state and local government agencies. Its mission is to collaborate to ensure that all children in grades PreK-12 in the City of Newark have equitable access to high quality, sequential arts education opportunities, both in and out of school. This NEA grant will benefit partners of the Roundtable including Aljira Center for Contemporary Arts, Gallery Aferro and the NJ Performing Arts Center.

These two grants reach far beyond the stage or exhibit hall to other public sectors —business through tourism and education. They represent funding that is difficult to raise from other sources, and recognition through the NEA’s competitive grant process is a badge of merit that offers promotional value in addition to financial support.

The State Partnership Grant of $835,800 is largely regranted by the New Jersey State Council on the Arts to support cultural projects in all artistic disciplines and while this award represents 5 percent of the Council’s total grant budget, many operating grants would be shortchanged or eliminated without NEA funding. In some cases, NEA State Partnership grants and matching funds constitute the total grants budget for some state arts councils.

On average, each NEA grant dollar leverages $9 in private sector support from foundations, business and individual giving. Yet the NEA is in a similar situation to New Jersey’s arts support — its appropriation has been frozen for the past four years at $146 million.

To increase that level of support hundreds of advocates come together each spring for National Arts Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. to remind our legislators that NEA awards matter to arts organizations and communities throughout the nation. This year 22 New Jersey advocates walked Capitol Hill in late March to visit all 15 U.S. Congress Representatives.

We told stories about the impact of NEA funds, answered questions about how federal dollars keep the arts affordable and accessible to  New Jersey residents and visitors, and asked our Representatives and their aides to consider increasing the NEA’s budget to $155 million which will extend the NEA’s impact even farther.

Each story told during National Arts Advocacy Day is testimony that public support for the arts truly makes a difference not only in New Jersey, but throughout our nation. Whether supporting a public studio event for glass artists at Wheaton Arts, or an exhibition entitled, Islamic Intersections at the Newark Museum, or helping Music for All Seasons bring music to children who are victims of domestic violence and living in shelters, these federal dollars are stretched and leveraged to the max.

Because NEA funds represent taxpayer dollars, the application has strict guidelines and accountability standards, and if you ever want to be challenged by bureaucracy, give grants.gov, the application process, a spin. To even apply for federal funds, each nonprofit organization must go through a contract approval process that is an equal test of patience and perseverance.


Finally, the NEA is celebrating a half-century birthday this year — proof that our nation continues to recognize the value of art to the lives of its citizens. On September 29,1965 President Lyndon Johnson signed P.L. 89-209, the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, in the Rose Garden of the White House. This piece of legislation established the National Endowment on the Arts and the Humanities Foundation as an umbrella for the NEA, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and their respective councils.

“Art is a nation’s most precious heritage,” President Johnson said. “For it is in our works of art that we reveal ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”

In its very first year the NEA had a budget of $2.5 million and made its first award of $100,000 in December 1965 to the American Ballet Theatre. The NEA has survived funding challenges including the notorious culture wars of the 90’s that resulted in a significant reduction of fellowship grants to individual artists. Its survival is testimony to the need and desire of our nation to support a diverse culture as described in President John F. Kennedy’s words:

“I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”

Ann Marie Miller is the Director of Public Policy at ArtPride New Jersey.  Miller is a regular contributor of the Dodge Blog.