NEA 1st Quarter 2001: The Drogin Report

by Barry Drogin

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How it was in early 2001

6/10/2003@7:35:44 AM
Your postings [to the NewMusicBox Forum] move me to release a study I did of the NEA allocations two years ago but never published. Re-reading it, I found a logical reversal and corrected it. Otherwise, I have not done a full and final verification of the text, which transferred spreadsheet calculations by typing into a word processing file. Since it is now the end of 2nd Quarter 2003, the absolute veracity of the figures has no political significance, and since I only did it once, no conclusions about trends since can be drawn. Still, re-reading it, I find some of its analysis and conclusions disturbing. I apologize if the text is sometimes confusing about distinguishing the number (quantity) of grants from the size (value) of grants, which was of particular interest to me. Since I have no intention of collecting the data for all of the NEA quarters since and performing a similar analysis, or of checking what is printed here, I am releasing what is printed here to the public domain. If anyone is interested in the methodology of the report and using it to perform a current analysis or a more extensive analysis of trends within the NEA, they are welcome to my files. [Ed. note: These files may not be so easily recovered.] The egotism of the title, and its usefulness to me as a marketing tool, is typical for me, as readers of this Forum are, I am sure, aware.

NEA 1st Quarter 2001: The Drogin Report

The following is an analysis of the recent NEA announcement of quarterly funding for so-called “Creativity” grants. The NEA announced $20.5 million of its $105 million 2001 budget allocation, of which $2.2 million were for 60 “organization capacity” grants, $1 million for 7 “leadership initiatives,” and $800,000 for 40 literature fellowships.

From 1,235 applications, $16,330,500 in 717 grants were awarded under the “Creativity” (formerly “Creation and Presentation”) category (1 grant for $5,000 was withdrawn by the requestor). These are matching grants that must be matched dollar for dollar by the institution. Except for the 34 poets and 6 translators receiving $20,000 literature fellowships, the NEA does not award grants to individuals anymore.

Listings of the grants were loaded into a spreadsheet and sorted by state, city, grant size, and category. The Microsoft Excel 2000 spreadsheet, with some illustrative pie charts, is available as a 200kb zipped file upon request [see note above].

To begin with regional data, it is clear that the NEA panels still understand that New York City is the cultural capital of the United States of America. Over $4.1 million of the $16.3 million in grants went to institutions based in one of the five boroughs of the city. By adding Buffalo, Syracuse and other regions in the state, New York State ended up with 29% of NEA funds. California, with $1 million for San Francisco and large sums for Los Angeles, Berkeley and San Diego, got only half as much, or 15%. Other leading states were Pennsylvania (6%, Philadelphia and Pittsburgh), Illinois (5%, Chicago), Texas (4%, Houston, Austin, Dallas and San Antonio), Minnesota (4%, Minneapolis and St. Paul), Massachusetts (3%, Boston, Cambridge and Amherst), Washington (3%, Seattle), Washington, DC (3%), Ohio (2%, Cleveland and Columbus) and Missouri (2%, St. Louis and Kansas City). The cities listed are illustrative and not a complete list for each state.

It is quite possible that New York’s continued dominance of art activities is the main source of its political difficulties. It is important to note that, when the NEA performed its “American Canvas” study a few years back, it did not hold an open panel discussion in New York.

Looking at individual grants, the largest grant was to the Sundance Film Festival for $110,000. There were seven $100,000 grants: two dance companies (Alvin Ailey, the NYC Ballet), two museums (Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art, the Phillips Collection), two orchestras (LA Philharmonic, Philadelphia Orchestra), and the Metropolitan Opera. This is a pretty conservative bunch, all things considered.

21 more grants were between $75,000 and $95,000, 35 were between $55,000 and $70,000, 32 were for $50,000, 104 were between $26,000 and $45,000, 55 were for $25,000, 178 were between $10,500 and $24,000, 110 were for $10,000, and 174 were between $5,000 and $9,000. The average grant comes to about $23,000, and the median grant only $15,000.

The NEA uses 14 categories to allocate funding. Rather than list them alphabetically, let’s group them by form.

The opera, dance, theater, musical theater and music categories are clearly for performing arts. The NEA also has a “presenting” category, which seems to lean toward festivals with a strong performance element. Most of the grants in the “multidisciplinary” category are for the performing arts as well. The NEA is open to forms in which creators are commissioned and the work is performed by others, as well as jazz and process pieces developed by the performers themselves.

Visual arts is used for fine arts and crafts, media arts is used primarily for film, and design is used for architectural competitions. Museums present all of the forms. Artist residencies, open studios and site-specific installations are supported, as well as specific projects.

The literature category is used to support publishing ventures and reading series involving literary criticism, prose and poetry. Writers typically are not commissioned, but submit completed work, which they hope to be compensated for. The exceptions are the literature fellowship grants mentioned previously.

Finally, the folk & traditional arts category and local arts agency category include work in any and all of the previous categories.

On average, the most expensive grants went to museums, at an average of $40,000 per grant, while the least expensive grants went for literature, at an average of $16,424. In between and in order, grants averaged $30,615 for opera, $30,105 for “presenting,” $30,000 for local arts agencies, $26,500 for design, $26,211 for media arts, $24,013 for visual arts, $22,308 for multidisciplinary, $21,440 for musical theater, $20,500 for folk and traditional arts, $20,462 for dance, $20,304 for theater, and $18,242 for music.

Three of the four with the smallest average grant got the most number of grants and greatest amount of money per category: 17% of the money and 19% of the grants went for theater, and 13% of the money and 17% of the grants went for music, and 13% of the money and 15% of the grants went for dance. Although museums got 13% of the money, their grants were double the size of those for the other three categories, so they did so with only 7% of the grants. The remaining categories, in order of decreasing total allocation, were media arts (9%, 8%), literature (6%, 8%), visual arts (6%, 6%), multidisciplinary (5%, 5%), opera (5%, 4%), presenting (4%, 3%), musical theater (3%, 3%), design (3%, 2%), folk and traditional arts (2%, 3%), and local arts agencies (1%, 0.4%).

I was interested in the extent that the NEA was funding the creation of new work, so I came up with a subjective rating system, giving an “A” to grants which were obviously for activities that would lead to the creation of a new work, “B” for grants where it was unclear whether the work was new, less than a decade old, or only a portion would go for new work, and “C” for grants that clearly went for revivals or retrospectives of work over 10 years old. I tended to include new translations of old pieces under “C”.

Not surprisingly, museums had the most conservative grants: 77% “C”, 13% “B”, and only 9% “A”. Opera grants were next: 69% “C”, 12% “B” and 19% “A”, ahead of even folk and traditional arts at 67% “C”, 22% “B” and 11% “A”. The multidisciplinary grants were clearly for the creation of new work: 90% “A”, 5% “B” and 5% “C”. Dance and musical theater, which are multidisciplinary in a way, were next, with 80% “A”, 12% “B”, 9% “C”, and 76% “A”, 4% “B” and 20% “C”, respectively. Two thirds of theater, local arts agency and literature grants were clearly for category “A” new work, and about half of visual arts, media arts and design grants could be designated so. The music and presenting categories were pretty conservative, with half of their grants clearly in category “C”.

In grand totals, 47% of the money and 52% of the grants were for category “A” work, 15% of the money and 18% of the grants were for category “B” work, and 37% of the money and 29% of the grants were for category “C” work.

The conclusions are clear: at least a third of the “Creativity” grants are not for the creation of new work, and the largest grants are going to conservative work. This is hidden in the numbers, for it would certainly seem that there are a large number of grants going toward the creation of new work, but those grants are relatively small in size. You would think that the commissioning, creation, rehearsal and presentation of new work would cost more than the presentation of pre-existing work, but the NEA doesn’t want to spend its money that way.

Also, by giving only matching grants, the NEA perpetuates a not-for-profit institutional culture that must raise money from major donors or a large number of smaller donors as part of an artistic mission. The more conservative institutions attract the richest donors and largest donations.

Consider what the government is doing. For every dollar that a rich donor gives to a conservative institution receiving an NEA matching grant, the government gives back to that donor as a tax credit (and as reduced governmental income) nearly 50 cents. Meanwhile, the government matches that dollar with another dollar. Of the two dollars that the conservative institution is getting, only $0.50, or a fourth, is coming from the donor, and $1.50 is coming from subsidies from taxpayers other than the rich donors.

The deal for more experimental institutions is harder both for the institution and the donors. Assuming that a handful of rich donors cannot be found, the experimental institution must corral the support of a large number of donors that are not as rich. The institution is working harder to get more donors, the size of the donations is not as large, and the fact that the work is experimental and not conservative makes the prospects harder. Meanwhile, those donors may get back only a quarter for every dollar given, and the taxes of this larger mass of taxpayers goes to pay for the NEA grants. So, of the two dollars that the experimental institution is getting, $0.75, or over a third, is coming from the poorer donor, as well as much of the $1.25 in taxpayer funds.

The deal for artists is even worse. In order to receive governmental funds for their experimental work, they must spend precious time grant-writing, fundraising, and obtaining institutional support. Mozart, Shakespeare and Rembrandt, on the other hand, get larger grants obtained by institutional professional staff on their behalf without having to spend any time on non-artistic matters, which is convenient, since they are dead.

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This piece, included in A Musical Contrarian © 2001-2007, has, per the text, been released to the public domain.

Last Updated: November 11, 2007