March 30, 2010; Philadelphia Inquirer | According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, “public funding for individual artists has virtually vanished from Pennsylvania for the first time in a half century.” In response to the Rocco Landesman, chairman of the National Endowment of the Arts, having “breezed through” Philadelphia this month, several nonprofit leaders, including Jeremy Nowak, head of the Reinvestment Fund that hosted the tour, called for eliminating the “silos” that “constrain thinking about arts funding.”
There was lots of talk about the role of the arts in neighborhood revitalization, including Landesman’s $5 million neighborhood development grant program called “Our Town.” But is the National Endowment for the Arts supporting artists themselves? There are suspicions that the funding silos give individual artists short shrift. Our Town’s budget means cutting the American Masterpieces program. While the Endowment funds individual achievement in opera, jazz, and folk arts, Landesman has no plans to provide funding for painters, sculptors, photographers, or other individual artists, and the issue of support for individual artists “isn’t at the top of my list for the next year,” he says.
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What’s going on, arts without artists? Although the Endowment’s $167 million budget isn’t a drop of paint in the federal budget, it gets lots of scrutiny from members of Congress, including recently Republican Senators John McCain and Tom Coburn who criticized federal stimulus grants to Philadelphia’s Spiral Q puppet theater as too “socially conscious” and the Pig Iron Theatre as too “foulmouthed.” Hopefully nonprofit groups promoting the arts in neighborhoods such as Philadelphia’s will remember to promote the artists too.—Rick Cohen