Culturally Impoverished: US Arts Spending Well Below Germany

The culturally impoverished US NEA spends 1/40th of what Germany doles out for arts per capita. 10 countries that leave the US in the dust on funding the arts.

This piece of “research” engendered a great deal of commentary, mostly negative, about the philistinism and closed attitudes that we Americans have toward the arts, compared to say Germany, Sweden, the UK, etc.

And, if we simply counted the NEA funding the US would be ashamedly last. But these numbers don’t tell the story, they distort the reality.

First, the US government funds the Smithsonian, National Gallery and the Kennedy Center with well over $200MM per year – not including capital for new buildings and repairs and expansions.

This number pales, however, to the “indirect funding” that the US (as compared to other countries) provides to the arts. In the US, contributions by individuals, foundations and certain corporate contributions are tax deductible. Take a simple example: for every dollar an American contributes to an arts organization (or a university or hospital) that individual receives a 28 cent to 35 cent reimbursement from the US government. US arts institutions, among the arts organizations in the other 10 countries, receive by far more contributions. Simply put, an arts organization that receives $5 million of its operating budget in contributions, actually, receives about $1.5 million (30% of that) indirectly from the US government. Because European taxes are so much higher, and because it is not part of their tradition, the “top 10 country arts organizations” do not receive that kind of funding and therefore no (or little) indirect funding from the government. Using just the indirect amount, the US government contribution is significantly higher than originally calculated. And don’t forget, arts organizations in the US do not pay real estate taxes, sales taxes (in most states) nor do they get taxed on their sponsorships (as happens in some other countries).

Now to the NEA. If we calculate the amount of its funding that is mandated to the states – half of it – and then calculate the time it takes arts organizations to apply for grants, the efficacy and relevance of the agency is questionable. Besides, NEA funding often becomes the “whipping boy” for conservative legislators.

My recommendation is to do away with the NEA; the amount is miniscule, the idea of imprimatur is overplayed and often it is not worth the trouble to apply for the grant. Let’s not even compete with the other countries on “national arts funding,” rather what is needed is more and better analysis on national funding for the arts.

James Abruzzo, Consultant, Consulting, Executive Search, Nonprofit Compensation, Expert Witness, Culturally Impoverished

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