Federal arts grants: And the rich keep getting richer - Baltimore Post-ExaminerBaltimore Post-Examiner

Federal arts grants: And the rich keep getting richer

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York – which raises $300 million a year and boasts $3.7 billion in assets – has received $1.2 million in federal government arts grants since 2009. (Photo courtesy of Arad.)

WASHINGTON – Dispense with the notion that most federal arts grants go mainly to struggling artists and fledgling nonprofits scrambling to get by.

The rich nonprofits tend to get richer, and financial need seems to play little role in the federal government’s funding decisions, according to a report released Tuesday from the Illinois nonprofit OpenTheBooks.com.

Consider the “Met Gala” benefit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York in May. Madonna, Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriquez, to name a few, contributed sizable sums for a museum that raises up to $300 million annually and boasts assets of $3.7 billion. Since 2009, the federal government has awarded the Met $1.2 million.

By contrast, 1,027 comparatively low-budget nonprofits received $1 million in FY 2016 grants.

The report scrutinized federal arts and humanities grants for FY 2016 through the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities (NFAH), an umbrella agency overseeing the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute for Library Services. All told, the NFAH granted $441.1 million to 3,163 entities in FY 2016, including nonprofit arts organizations, colleges and universities, government-affiliated programs and Native American tribes.

“Why are taxpayers funding nonprofits that have assets of at least $1 billion?” the report asked. “Do charities have a right to public funding no matter what their balance sheet?

“If the public purpose is to fund the starving artist, then why are small organizations (less than $1 million in assets) receiving just $1 of every $4 in NFAH nonprofit grant-making? Who can explain the public purpose in forcing working-class taxpayers to fund arts organizations that obviously don’t need the money?”

OpenTheBooks.com, the watchdog group launched by former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) and former 2010 Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Andrzejewski, a leader in an effort to make public government data, found that 71 “asset-rich” nonprofit organizations – groups with more than $3.7 billion in assets – received $20.5 million in grants in fiscal year 2016.

Debate over federal funding for the arts has taken a decidedly political turn since March, when President Donald Trump proposed eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Trump also called for killing funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting – a crucial revenue source for National Public Radio, a frequent Trump critic.

Since 2009, the National Foundation for the Arts and Humanities has awarded $1.8 million to the Metropolitan Opera Association – which has $429.5 million in assets, according to OpenTheBooks,com. The Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center in New York is pictured. (MetOpera.org)

Arts advocates lambasted Trump’s plan, bracing themselves for deep cuts in arts funding in the 2018 fiscal year.

“The American people are recognized for their innovative spirit, and these grants represent the vision, energy and talent of America’s artists and arts organizations,” said Jane Chu, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts. “I am proud of the role the National Endowment for the Arts plays in helping advance the creative capacity of the United States.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the report.

The OpenTheBooks.com study also found that in FY 2016:

  • Affluent colleges and universities – 258 of them with assets totaling $428.3 billion – received grants totaling $146.2 million, the report found.
  • Nearly half of all grant dollars – $210 million – went to recipients in 10 states, led by New York ($44.8 million), California ($41.6 million); and Texas ($20.3 million).
  • The federal government awarded $4.8 million to Native American tribes.

This article is republished with permission from Talk Media News.

About the author

Gary Gately

Gary Gately, a seasoned journalist, has won 15 national, regional and local awards for reporting and writing news, investigative, public service, feature, business and travel pieces. Gately’s work has been published by The New York Times, The Boston Globe, The Baltimore Sun (where he worked in reporting and editing jobs for 11 years), Baltimore Examiner, the Chicago Tribune, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Guardian, The Washington Post, The Dallas Morning News, Business Week, Newsweek, Arrive Magazine, The Center for Public Integrity, CBSNews.com, CNBC.com, ABCNews.com, USAToday.com, HealthDay, The Crime Report, United Press International and numerous other newspapers, websites and magazines. His coverage has received awards from the Associated Press, the Society of Professional Journalists, the Washington-Baltimore Newspaper Guild, the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association and the Society of American Travel Writers (first-place Lowell Thomas Award for best newspaper travel story/U.S.-Canada (immigrant New York). Gately also has extensive experience editing for newspapers and websites, has taught college journalism courses in news writing, magazine writing and travel writing and is the author of Maryland: Anthem to Innovation, a book on the state's history, industries and attractions. Contact the author.