$50 Million Arts Stimulus Points to a New Regime

Posted February 20, 2009 at 6:05pm

After decades of slashed budgets and marginalization at the hands of Republicans, the arts and entertainment industry — from community groups to Hollywood — are now boasting a seat at the table with the Democratic White House and newly bolstered Congressional majorities.

“There’s no question that back five years ago when I was hired, when the leadership of both parties were Republicans … there was some concern when this organization hired a Democrat,” Motion Picture Association of America President Dan Glickman said last week. “That’s gone.”

Glickman, a former Member and secretary of Agriculture in the Clinton White House, was a consistent target of the Congressional GOP’s “K Street Project,” an organized effort started more than a decade ago to populate corner offices downtown with Republicans.

Led by former Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Pa.), the effort to oust Democrats nearly cost Glickman his job, as it allegedly did to top Democrats at the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, the Investment Company Institute, and elsewhere.

“I got shot at a few times,” Glickman joked. “But they never killed me.”

In the $787 billion stimulus bill signed by President Barack Obama a week ago, $50 million was earmarked in conference for the National Endowment for the Arts, a once-maligned taxpayers-subsidized group that conservatives routinely put on the chopping block.

In addition to putting people back to work, the MPAA’s chief and industry leaders agreed that the decision by Democrats to include the money is also a symbolic gesture of support — and a sign perhaps of more money to come.

“Those of us who work in the Capitol work in a piece of art,” said Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), who also co-chairs the Congressional Arts Caucus. The western Empire State lawmaker, credited with putting pressure on leaders to include the cash in the stimulus package, also said she’ll lobby her colleagues to fund the foundation at Reagan-era levels — roughly $180 million — a time when Democrats also had a substantial majority in the House.

More likely, however, Slaughter said the House will request $147 million, a 15 percent jump from the $128 million requested by President George W. Bush last year.

Slaughter received some high-profile help from Hollywood in pushing for the funding ahead of the final vote nearly two weeks ago. A spokesman for Robert Redford confirmed that the “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” star called Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) during Senate conference negotiations to plea for the money to be put back in the bill.

“He backed up the request for consideration with what he feels is a compelling bottom line argument to be made around the arts as an important economic driver in communities across this country,” Redford spokeswoman Joyce Deep wrote in an e-mail.

“He cited the fact that with some 6 million jobs associated with the arts and some $166 billion in economic activity every year, including $29 billion in revenue to governments at all levels, he feels we must start integrating this sector into our legislative thinking in a way it hasn’t been in the past and feels we should stop treating it as a trivial pursuit, and start valuing the jobs of those in the arts sector in the same way we do any other,” Deep wrote.

Republican Mitch Bainwol, president of the Recording Industry Association of America, agreed that there’s a predictable coziness between Democratic lawmakers and the entertainment and arts community, terming it “a natural affinity.” Still, he said the industry must balance that inherent likability with a primary legislative priority of the entertainment industry: intellectual property rights.

“When it comes to property rights, there’s a very strong foundation with Republicans because they get the idea that property has to be protected,” he said.

Some in the arts community are reserving judgement until current promises by Democrats are actually met with cash.

Creative Coalition Co-President Tim Daly, who plays Pete Wilder on ABC’s “Grey’s Anatomy” spin-off, “Private Practice,” applauded the NEA set-aside, but called it “just a drop in the bucket.”

“It is a small step in the right direction, but we have a long way to go,” Daly said. “Unfortunately in our culture, we view the arts as something extra, something de-linked from our daily lives and from our economy.”

He added: “Right now, it looks like we have a foot in the door.”