Thursday, May 24, 2007
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House Panel Votes Record NEA Fund Increase
The House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee on May 23 voted a record increase in funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), approving legislation proposed by subcommittee chair Rep. Norm Dicks (D-WA) setting the arts spending at $160.0 million for the 2008 fiscal year, $35.6 million above the current level of $124.4 million. The President’s budget had proposed increasing the NEA’s budget by $4 million in the coming year.
The last time Congress approved an arts funding increase of such magnitude was 1979, when the arts endowment’s budget was raised by $26 million. At a subcommittee hearing on NEA funding in March of this year, Dicks had signaled his desire to return the arts agency’s funding to its high budget mark at $176 million fifteen years ago. He had expressed the hope at the hearing that the subcommittee would be able to “find funds to address this shortfall.” Indeed, the mark proposed by Dicks almost matches the level of $162 million in 1995, after which the NEA suffered a congressional funding cut of almost 40 percent.
At the March hearing, the House subcommittee members, on both sides of the aisle, had joined in praising NEA Chair Dana Gioia for his stewardship and creativity in guiding the NEA. One subcommittee member had even referred to the hearing as “a love fest.” NASAA and our arts advocacy colleagues have worked together to impress upon Congress the value of federal arts spending across the country, with the positive results evidenced by the House subcommittee’s action.
In increasing the budget for the NEA, the House panel voted to raise the funding in each of the arts endowment’s budget categories, taking direct grants from $43.985 million in FY07 to $50 million in FY08; Challenge America grants from $10.496 million to $15 million; American Masterpieces from $5.911 million to $13.5 million; state and regional partnerships from $40.262 million to $55 million; and administration funds from $23.752 million to $26.5 million. The House subcommittee’s budget allocations differ from the President’s budget request by significantly increasing direct grants, which the administration would have cut, while still adding considerably to funds for American Masterpieces, as the President had proposed.
The House subcommittee’s bill also increased funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) to the level of $160 million, adding $19 million over the current funding. The President had requested flat funding for NEH at the FY07 level of $141 million.
The Interior Appropriations Bill next goes to the full Appropriations Committee for approval, with House floor action anticipated in June. Continued advocacy support will be needed as Congress progresses through its work on the FY08 spending legislation. The Senate Appropriations Committee has not marked up its version of the spending bill, an action expected to begin in June. When the bill goes before the full House, we expect the strong possibility of an amendment to cut the arts funding proposed in the legislation, and the President has threatened to veto any appropriations bills which do not adhere to his proposed spending plan.
Visa Process Improves For Performing Artists
The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has agreed to a change in its policy to ease the burden on some visa petitioners, including performing arts organizations booking foreign artists. Beginning May 16, 2007, visa petitioners will be able to apply for so-called O or P visas - typically used by foreign performing artists visiting the United States -- up to a maximum of one year in advance of their need for the foreign artist's services.
USCIS announced it was changing the visa processing rules to allow "employers and agents more time to bring foreign workers with extraordinary ability to the United States." Currently, the earliest petitioners may file is 6 months in advance of a performance. Extending the earliest filing date from 6 to 12 months will provide relief for those petitioners prepared to file far in advance of a performance. USCIS agreed to the rule change at the urging of the nonprofit performing arts community.
Congress Passes Music Education Resolution
On May 15, the House and Senate passed a concurrent resolution expressing the sense of Congress that "music education grounded in rigorous instruction is an important component of a well-rounded academic curriculum and should be available to every student in every school."
The bill, H.Con.Res. 121, introduced by Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) with 35 cosponsors, recognizes the benefits and importance of school-based music education with a number of findings to support the legislation's position: