February 14, 2011; Source: Office of Management and Budget | In his proposed FY2012 budget, President Obama is calling for a 12.6 percent reduction in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, one of the nation's main cultural grantmaking agencies.

The combined grantmaking budget of the National Endowment for the Arts and its sister agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities, would be reduced by $22 million from $168 million to $146 million. The President's rationale is that the two agencies are working to better coordinate and consolidate some functions, which will result in overhead cost savings. But $22 million worth of savings?

As a percentage of the proposed federal budget $3.73 trillion, the NEA and NEH appropriations don't even register. Even adding in the $861.5 million requested for the Smithsonian ($635.5 million for salaries and expenses and $225 million for facilities, including $125 million for the construction of the National Museum of African American History and Culture) is still is hardly more than a blip on the screen.

Of course, the president's funding proposal might sound generous after Congressional budget cutters start whacking. Neither the Arts nor the Humanities agencies are on the agenda of conservative Republicans for saving, much less budget increases. This is much more than an issue for nonprofit arts organizations. It is a question about this nation's commitment to investing in the arts.—Rick Cohen