Choppy waters – Economic hurdles

By Todd Cohen

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Margaret S. “Tog” Newman of Winston-Salem is cautiously upbeat about funding for the arts.

While the economic downturn poses big challenges for arts groups, public funding for the arts has enjoyed healthy growth for a decade, she says.

Newman, a local arts activist and advocate who has served as chairman of the N.C. Arts Council since 1993, recently was elected president of the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies.

She says top priorities for the national group, which represents state arts agencies and those representing jurisdictions such as the District of Columbia, will be building ties with the Bush administration and tracking strategies by state arts groups to weather the economic slump.

The National Assembly aims to work closely with Michael Hammond, named by President Bush to head the National Endowment for the Arts after serving as dean of the Shepherd School of Music at Rice University in Houston.

Forty states face budget shortfalls and funding for state arts agencies likely will suffer, Newman says.

The N.C. Arts Council, for example, is losing 20 percent of its $7 million annual budget through an across-the-board cut of 2.5 percent for all state agencies – and because the council lost a $2 million increase it had received for two straight years.

In the fiscal year that started July 1, the council made $4.7 million in grants for local arts groups and artists.

Still, Newman says, until the current fiscal year, state legislative funding for the arts throughout the U.S. has grown 7 percent to 10 percent a year for nearly a decade — more than doubling to $446 million in 2001 from $211 million in 1993.

And the National Endowment, which under congressional mandate earmarks 40 percent of its budget for state arts agencies, this year received a $10 million increase from Congress – continuing the agency’s recovery from the culture wars of the early 1990s when its budget was halved.

“We’ve come a long way in public support for state arts agencies,” says Newman, who was general manager of the Winston-Salem Symphony, executive director of Leadership Winston-Salem and manager of the Winston-Salem Gallery of Fine Arts (now SECCA, the Southeastern Center for Contemporary Art).

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