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House Committee Backs Cuts in Federal Cultural Spending

By Jacqueline Trescott
The Washington Post
WASHINGTON

The House Budget Committee chairman is pushing for broad cuts in federal cultural spending, including elimination of a little-known but potent fund for leading Washington institutions.

The National Capital Arts and Cultural Affairs program, which budget chairman John Kasich, R-Ohio, wants to kill, bestows a total of $7.5 million in unrestricted grants on 18 of the district's most important arts venues, from the Kennedy Center to the Corcoran Gallery of Art. The fund is designed to provide support for Washington institutions that states and counties give elsewhere.

Most recipients depend on the fund even more than they rely on the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities - which are also under fire. Kasich and Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole, R-Kan., among others, have called for an end to the endowments.

At the same time, because of the District of Columbia's fiscal crisis, the city budget for the arts has been cut in half and the remaining money is locked in frozen accounts. The combination of cuts, federal and local, real and proposed, has arts administrators worried.

Kasich suggested wiping out the Capital Arts fund last month as part of a list of items to pay for a tax cut. He has long believed the federal government has no place funding the arts, according to his staff. Aides said Kasich will go after arts funding in his budget resolution later this spring.

"The lights would be twinkling out all over Washington," says Werner Gundersheimer, director of the Folger Shakespeare Library, which last year received $458,000 of its $5.2 million budget from the Capital Arts fund - plus more than $675,000 from other government sources.

Charles S. Moffett, director of the Phillips Collection, says "the Capital Arts grant makes all the difference in the world. It is the difference between performing effectively and being hobbled." The Phillips gets almost 10 percent of its budget from the fund, plus a small amount from the NEA. "If we don't have it, we undoubtedly would have to cancel programs and perhaps reduce the staff."