NEA Arts Magazine

The National Council on the Arts Meets in DC

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From the Top's Gerald Slavet shares success stories from the program at the public meeting of the National Council on the Arts. Photo by Kathy Plowitz-Worden

Arts leaders from across the country joined NEA staff at the agency's Washington, DC, headquarters on Friday, March 27, for the concluding session of the 166th meeting of the National Council on the Arts, the Arts Endowment's advisory board. With NEA Acting Chairman Patrice Walker Powell presiding, the public session followed two days during which council members received updates on Arts Endowment activities and reviewed applications proposed for funding.

The council unanimously approved the first round of NEA grants supported by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Nearly $20 million was allocated to the state arts agencies and regional arts organizations to support projects focusing on the preservation of jobs in the arts. Chairman Powell noted, "This is an incredible opportunity to serve the cultural workforce."

The council also voted to approve more than 1,000 direct grants in the categories of Access to Artistic Excellence, Learning in the Arts, Partnership Agreements, and Leadership Initiatives, which includes programs such as American Masterpieces; the Arts Education Partnership; international partnerships; and NEA honorary awards in jazz, opera, and the folk arts. Powell reported that the grants represented an investment of approximately $84 million in the nation's arts sector.

Two presentations focused on music training for youth and broadcast presentations of young performing artists. Following a performance by seven DC Youth Orchestra students of selections by Benjamin Britten and Franz Joseph Haydn, Executive Director Ava Spece spoke on the program's transformative effect. Noting that the high school graduation rate for Washington, DC hovers around 57 percent, Spece stated that 100 percent of DC Youth Orchestra students graduate. She added, "Music has the power to bring academic success to children who might not otherwise find it."

NEA Media Arts Director Ted Libbey introduced a presentation by From The Top co-producer Gerald Slavet with a primer on the agency's support for a range of broadcast and film projects. Slavet then shared incredible success stories from the program, which features young classical musicians in radio and television broadcasts. The producer credited early funding from the NEA with validating the program's mission. "We wanted to make heroes of young artists and celebrate them the way our society celebrates young athletes. . . . We're making a show about hope, hope for the future, hope for the next generation of young leaders."

A final presentation by Clara Miller, president of the Nonprofit Finance Fund, articulated the financial challenges currently facing nonprofit cultural organizations. Among other things, Miller cited a need for arts organizations to invest in systems that can quickly respond to changing economic conditions.

The next meeting of the National Council on the Arts will take place June 24–26, during which the council will review the recommendations for Leadership Initiative grants and Translation Fellowships, as well as the second round of grants supported by Recovery Act funds.