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Editorial – Sequestration, Now What?


“Not often does one paraphrase [the character] Napoleon of Animal Farm, George Orwell’s literary stand-in for Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, but perhaps it is fitting when it comes to sequestration: ‘All cuts are equal, but some cuts are more equal than others.'”  –Edward Headington, The Huffington Post, 2/27/13

Ok, the world did not come to an end and the American economy has not collapsed. Dance performances and classes in Philadelphia are still occurring and life goes on. Was all the hype, spin, and blame nothing more than politics as usual in Washington?

The reality is that specific parts of the federal budget will be impacted by a budgetary control called “sequestration”. This sequester, totaling $85 billion, will reduce funding to almost all areas of domestic social programs by about 5 percent. The arts do not go unscathed in this new reality. Specifically, the NEA’s $148 million budget will be cut by 8.2 percent, or roughly $12 million.  But the arts community should not feel singled out in this round (mild sarcasm here). The sequester is an across the board, indiscriminate cut to most federal agencies. The NEA and the U.S. Department of Education, more specifically the federal Arts in Education program, and other cultural agencies such as the Smithsonian, Museum and Library Services, Corporation for Public Broadcasting will be forced to make these cuts in an effort to achieve the overall $1.5 trillion in deficit reduction over 10 years.

Most federal, cultural institutions have anticipated the cuts and will meet budget constraints through delaying maintenance and upgrades to their facilities, furloughing and reducing staff and closing their doors for several days per week to reduce overall expenses. The NEA’s budget cuts are most likely to be distributed equally between grant reduction and cuts in administrative budgets, although no official word has been made. The NEA gave out $115 million in grants in 2012 and most likely that number will be reduced for this year. With one of the smaller of federal department budgets, even minor reductions will be felt and have ripple effects.

The real issues come as we approach the date of March 27th when Congress will need to address the unfinished budget issues for Fiscal Year 2013.  At this time, we could see even further impact of the sequestration to both the US economy as well as the creative economy. If the economy stalls or declines, or job losses begin to increase again, the cultural sector could see real cuts to grants, donations and even attendance at performing arts events.  Art programs in the schools, which have already seen a steady decline, will surely suffer further.

So while it may seem like business as usual, vigilance by the arts community is more critical than ever. Even more so is making sure your voice is heard.  Americans For The Arts recently sent out a reminder that National Arts Advocacy Day is on Tuesday, April 9th. This comes at a critical time frame given the looming March 27th date.  I would encourage you to REGISTER and be sure that our collective voice is heard on Capitol Hill!

More on National Arts Advocacy Day at http://www.artsusa.org/events/2013/aad/default.asp

1 Comment

  1. Steve, great piece and very valuable overview. A reminder that new strategies are required to survive and maintain in the arts. Lew