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National Endowment for the Arts: Kicking and Screaming

Gallery exhibitions may be sexier, and museum patrons may be wealthier, but the government-backed National Endowment for the Arts is still alive and begging for your arts attention. The 2011 budget for the NEA was just proposed by President Obama at $161.3 million for the fiscal year, the same goal he set for 2010, which was ultimately increased by Congress to $167.5 million. (Some perspective: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is slotted for $470 million, international disaster assistance for $860 million, and proposed military construction will net a staggering $18.18 billion.) What else is new?

The NEA provides grants not just in visual arts, but radio and television, dance, literature, and music. That proposed chunk of $161.3 million is approximately 0.0004% of the entire federal budget of $3.69 trillion (or $3,690,000,000,000 with all the zeros). We get it — health care is huge concern, as is social security for baby boomers, higher education, environmental protection, and the massive infrastructure required from highways and agriculture to the administration of the State Department. But come on. The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s operating budget for 2010 is $206 million, and that’s after a huge endowment cut and staff layoffs the previous year. Robert Lynch from advocacy group Americans for the Arts points out that “support for the arts is at its lowest point in a decade.” And there’s not even an Andres Serrano to protest.

With such tight budget strings it’s no wonder the NEA is outsourcing the new logo design for the agency, centered around its mission that “Art Works.” Coinciding with the publication of the proposed federal budget on Monday, NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman announced a contest with a winning pot of $25,000. Proposals are due by February 26 and should represent three meanings of the tagline: “the creation of artists; the effect of art on audiences; and the contribution of artists to the economy.” Proposals for a money-making machine are, we assume, also welcome.

A $75,000 NEA grant for International Arts & Artists, Inc. supported the  touring exhibition Man Ray, African Art and the Modernist Lens, which started at the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC.

For more on Obama’s overall budget proposal — including the deficit problem — watch the New York Times video analysis and peruse a graphic breakdown. To get involved with arts advocacy, check in with Americans for the Arts.