There is no greater sign of this Republican retreat than the overwhelming vote in the House of Representatives and the Senate to continue funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, a perennial target of both social and fiscal conservatives. By a 100‐vote margin in the House, Republicans teamed up with Democrats to ply arts philanthropists with almost $100 million in hard‐earned taxpayer money.
Amazingly, this congressional philanthropy far outpaces any real or perceived “need” in the arts. Last year, as a staff member of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, which has jurisdiction over the NEA, I helped prepare a report showing that the arts in America had never been healthier. We reported that, over the previous four years, the arts had experienced increased sales of over 17 percent. Likewise, the performing arts had annual admission receipts of $5.5 billion, an amount that almost exceeded total receipts for spectator sports (this before Mark McGwire, of course). Our report documented that the number of arts establishments had grown dramatically and that artists had higher earnings and lower levels of unemployment than the rest of the labor force. In short, our report concluded that the arts were booming and showed no sign of financial “need.”
This year the case for ending the NEA is even stronger. Since March the NEA has released eight reports confirming the continued health of the arts in America. The NEA reported that in 1997, the year following the year the Republican Congress cut the NEA by 40 percent, artist employment grew at an incredible rate of 3.7 percent. This is a full percentage point higher than employment growth in other professional occupations and more than double the rate for nonprofessional employment. Likewise, the NEA reported that between 1987 and 1992 the number of performing arts organizations grew by 30 percent, museums by 18 percent, theaters by 22 percent, classical music organizations by 22 percent and dance organizations by an incredible 43 percent.