Federal Stimulus Funds for the Arts Leave Out Latino Organizations, Group Claims

Story by Lolbé Corona, RUMBO/New America Media

This story appeared originally in RUMBO newspapers in Texas and was produced as part of New America Media’s Stimulus Watch coverage. It was funded with a grant from the Open Society Institute. Republished here with permission.

The Southwest School of Arts and Craft was one of the Latino organizations that received ARRA funds in Texas - Photo: Southwest School

The Southwest School of Arts and Craft was one of the Latino organizations that received ARRA funds in Texas. (Photo: Southwest School)

Many were called, few were chosen.

Only 14 Latino artistic and cultural organizations received funds from President Barack Obama’s $787 billion stimulus package through the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Association of Latino Arts and Culture (NALAC) says.

Passed a year ago today, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA), one of President Obama’s first legislative victories, was designed to create new jobs and save others that were jeopardized as a result of the economic crisis.

“We are aware that it was a competitive process, but 14 Latino organizations, out of more than 630 NEA beneficiaries, is only two percent,” said Maria Lopez de Leon, executive director of NALAC, a nonprofit organization dedicated to the development of Latino arts in the country.

ARRA included several stimulus initiatives. One of the chief measures for the arts consisted of $50 million to be distributed by NEA, the largest governmental entity dedicated to supporting the arts in the United States. 60% of ARRA funding for the arts was awarded directly by NEA ($29,925,000), and the remaining 40% was awarded through local and state agencies.

According to NEA, aid was granted to only 636 of the 2,424 art institutions that requested funds directly from them, including museums, symphony orchestras, art schools, dance academies and opera companies, among others. Most awards were in the $25,000 to $50,000 range.

NEA would not confirm NALAC’s count of only 14 Latino groups (see list below) receiving funds. “I am not sure that the number is accurate,” said spokeswoman Sally Gifford. “The details of how the funds were awarded are much more complex.”

Gifford said more Latino cultural organizations received funds through regional and state arts agencies, which redistributed some ARRA funds for the arts. Those entities apparently granted 63 awards for a total of $19,790,000.

“Many of these funds were channeled directly to Latino organizations through local or regional art agencies,” Gifford said.

“Another element that has not been taken into consideration is how many of the awardees support Latino art, and reach Latino audiences,” she added.

But NALAC’s Lopez de Leon argues that a Latino arts organization is defined as one whose mission is focused on Latino art and culture, whose executives or artistic directors are of Latino origin or whose board of directors is at least 51% Latino.

“Simply because an organization serves a Latino population this does not make it a Latino organization,” she said. According to NALAC’s database, there are more than 500 Latino cultural institutions and more than 5,000 Latino artists in the United States.

“We know that funds were allocated at the local and state levels also, but what we observed is that there was a lack of fair representation in the distribution at the federal level [through NEA],” Lopez de Leon said. “In addition, federal funds were greater than those distributed at the state and local levels.”

A matter of perspective

As to whether or not Latino groups received a fair share of ARRA funds, Jim Bob McMillan, deputy director of the Texas Art Commission (TAC), said that “with such a small amount of funds allocated to the arts in general, there were some limitations.” His agency received just $427,300 from ARRA to support art organizations in the state, he said.

TAC established some criteria to screen who was eligible for ARRA funding. The chief requirement was that applying institutions ought to have received funding from NEA in the previous four years.

In Texas, 300 organizations requested ARRA funds through TAC, but only 26 received grants of $16,000 each. According to the arts commission, this helped keep or create 47 art-related full-or part-time jobs. Five of the groups were Latino ones, McMillan said.

Winners and losers

“Our objective is not to attack NEA just to see what comes of it,” said Lopez de Leon. “We understand that they did what they could, but they should have been more inclusive when awarding federal funds to minorities. Especially because of the social and economic repercussions that this may have on the Latino arts, as well as on artistic Latino organizations.”

In 2009, NALAC conducted two surveys. One, of 64 organizations and more than 120 artists, centered on the effects of the economic crisis on Latino organizations. The second —with the participation of 34 Latino organizations— focused on the ARRA economic stimulus awarded through NEA.

Preliminary results from the second survey, shared exclusively with RUMBO, show that 99% of the organizations that did not receive ARRA dollars were forced to carry out a series of cutbacks, including layoffs. 57.9% of those groups reported programming cutbacks, 31.6% had to lay off some staff or reduce overall labor time, and 36.8% took other measures.

“The decision not to fund minority organizations carries grave consequences for many communities. Many of these organizations will be forced to close their doors, doing away with venues for cultural expression. The creation of art will also be affected,” Lopez said.

NALAC, which initially was not approved for ARRA funding through NEA, received $50,000 from the stimulus in a subsequent round. It used the funds to save two jobs and keep a contract to make improvements to its website.

“We estimate that the money awarded by ARRA directly through NEA will help maintain or create 4,000 full- or part-time jobs in the country, which is a great contribution to the arts,” said NEA spokeswoman Victoria Hutter.

For now, the $50 million in funds awarded through NEA in 2009 were one-time award packages, and it has not been decided if similar resources will be available in 2010.

Latino organizations funded by ARRA through NEA

  1. Amigos del Museo del Barrio. New York, NY. $50,000
  2. Ballet Hispánico. New York, NY. $50,000
  3. Gala Grupo de Artistas Latinoamericanos. Washington D.C. $50,000
  4. José Limón Dance Foundation. New York, NY. $50,000
  5. National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation. Albuquerque, NM. $50,000
  6. National Museum of Mexican Art. Chicago, IL. $50,000
  7. Radio Bilingüe. Fresno, CA. $25,000
  8. Santa Cecilia Opera and Orchestra Association. Los Ángeles, CA. $25,000
  9. Spanish Theatre Repertory Company. New York, NY. $50,000
  10. Arte Público Press. Houston, TX. $25,000
  11. National Association of Latino Arts and Culture. San Antonio, TX. $50,000
  12. Borderlands Theater Teatro Fronterizo. Tucson, AZ. $25,000
  13. Cornerstone Theater Company. Los Ángeles, CA. $50,000
  14. Ballet Concierto de Puerto Rico. San Juan, PR. $50,000
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