WASHINGTON — National Endowment for the Arts chair Bill Ivey is breathing a little easier today. The Bush administration has proposed no cuts to the NEA’s budget for fiscal year 2002.
Ivey had good reason to be nervous when President Bush won the keys to the White House. Certain Republicans, including Bush’s father, have long used the NEA as a political whipping post.
Ivey, appointed in 1998 by President Clinton, had no idea how the GOP administration would react to the arts agency. He got a key clue when he learned Bush has kept funding at the level of this fiscal year — $105 million, which includes a $7 million spending hike, the first increase in eight years.
“It clearly sends the message that there’s no antagonism toward the cultural agencies,” Ivey told Daily Variety.
As with the NEA, the White House budget proposes to keep funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities at $120 million, the same as this year.
Arts flower in Texas
How much, if any, of the apparent goodwill can be traced to first lady Laura Bush is unclear. A former schoolteacher and librarian, Laura Bush is an ardent supporter of arts education and reading. While serving as the first lady of Texas, she started a rotating art exhibit in the governor’s mansion and launched a successful book festival.
During Bush’s reign as governor, state funding for the arts increased in Texas for the first time in nearly two decades.
The White House could not be reached for comment regarding the president’s budget.
Ivey said he has recently held introductory meetings with Margaret LaMontagne, assistant to President Bush for domestic policy, and Andrea Ball, chief of staff to Laura Bush.
“My goal is to make certain that the NEA makes a good transition from one (political) party to the next. Arts are not a partisan issue. Federal investment in the arts depends on both parties,” Ivey said.
Ivey, a folklorist by trade, said he believes he will complete his four-year term, which expires next year.
President Bush has the option to name an acting chair of the NEA, but has signaled he will leave smaller agencies, such as the NEA, alone for the time being.
Early next month, there will be the first of several congressional hearings on the NEA’s budget for fiscal 2002.
Still, no one at the NEA is gloating. Some Washington observers say that while Bush hasn’t proposed immediate cuts to the NEA, it’s likely that such cuts will be made down the road, particularly considering the president’s tax plan.
Also, some wonder what role Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney, will play regarding cultural issues. A longtime cultural warrior, Cheney proposed gutting the NEH when serving as chair of the agency in the early 1980s. So far, she has remained largely quiet.
Ivey said he has worked hard to dispel the notion that the NEA supports only fringe elements. In securing this year’s budget increase, Ivey said key Republicans on Capitol Hill were instrumental in convincing their otherwise skeptical colleagues to bolster NEA coffers. Much of the increase is being used to launch a nationwide arts education program.
On Tuesday, Americans for the Arts held a congressional breakfast to plug the importance of arts and education. Org, with strong ties to the NEA, works to increase public and private funding. Also participating in the event was the Creative Coalition, a New York-based advocacy org for actors and artists headed by thesp William Baldwin.