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What about the arts?

Variety Editorial

Government subsidies to the arts, a hot-button issue for previous political candidates, has been scarcely mentioned in this year’s hard-fought presidential election.

But arts policy is likely to be a big issue for the next administration – both because of the rising, bipartisan support for the National Endowment for the Arts and because of identical bills before the House and Senate meant to overturn restrictive rules on artists donating their work to museums.

The NEA, widely vilified by the political right in the culture wars of the 1990s, has gotten a boost from the Bush administration, which has asked Congress to raise its budget by $18 million for the 2005 fiscal year.

NEA chairman Dana Gioia, who was hand-picked by President Bush, has steered the agency away from grants to experimental artists toward broader arts initiatives, like Shakespeare in American Communities and Operation: Homecoming, which coordinates writing and poetry workshops at military bases for veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan.

We support the president’s increase in NEA funding, though it won’t be enough to bring the NEA budget to the levels it enjoyed in the early 1990s.

The next administration will also contend with bills on arts donations. In 1969, Congress repealed legislation allowing artists, writers and composers to take a fair-market value deduction from their taxable income for work they donate to museums. Today, an artist can only deduct the cost of supplies and materials, like paint and canvas.

We endorse the “Artists’ Contribution to American Heritage Act of 2004,” now before Congress, and the “Artist-Museum Partnership Act,” now before the Senate, which would rollback the 1969 limits.

These issues haven’t taken center stage in an election that’s been dominated by Iraq, terrorism and the economy. But they should be a priority for the next administration.

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