Big Cut in Federal Funds Leaves D.C. Arts Groups Scrambling

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May 6, 2011; Source: Washington Business Journal | The National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs (NCACA) program established in 1985 and designed to serve as a source of support to nonprofit arts organizations in Washington, D.C., that don’t benefit from state funding, lost $7 million from its $9.5 million 2011 budget as a result of last month’s budget negotiations. The Washington Business Journal reports that as a result of this severe cut, many of the 24 organizations that were expecting payments by June 30 are now preparing for undesirable scenarios that could include operating deficits, program cuts, and possible layoffs.

Referring to NCACA, Gail Kern Paster, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library told the Business Journal, “For some of these smaller organizations, this is absolutely lifeblood for them.” Kern Paster expects the Folger to get between $90,000 and $150,000 instead of the $441,000 that she had planned on, which will likely mean that the organization will have to scale back its programming.

The Cathedral Choral Society, another Washington, D.C.-based organization that has also benefited from the fund, planned on $300,000, 20 percent of the organization’s total budget, but instead is expecting to receive $80,000, which would leave them with an operating deficit for next year. In response, Alison Combes, executive director of the Cathedral Choral Society, told the Business Journal that she has already implemented pay cuts for her staff, left a development position unfilled, and is now considering cutting programming. Commenting on the frustrations that come with the challenge of doing more with less however, Combes said, “If cuts mean organizations will do less programming, they will have less to show for their donated funds.”

Even Arena Stage, a comparatively large organization that just opened a new facility with a $125 million capital campaign, has been affected by the changes to NCACA. “We’re expecting about a $500,000 negative variance from what we were expecting (before the cuts), and we have no real reason to expect that it will be different for the next fiscal year,” Edgar Dobie, Arena’s managing director, told the Business Journal. “This was evergreen money we assumed would be there year in and year out. You don’t usually see the equivalent of a state arts council disappearing overnight.”

According to the Business Journal, representatives from the affected groups have formed a consortium to convince lawmakers of the importance of the NCACA as a funding source.—Anne Eigeman