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NEA report says Americans’ financial support for arts on decline

October 15, 1997

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Private giving to the arts has more than tripled since 1965, but the number of opera companies and theater companies has increased at a much faster pace, and the National Endowment for the Arts reports that Americans’ support for the traditional arts is declining.

People who work in the arts are partly to blame, the NEA says in a new report. Actress Jane Alexander, who has headed the agency for the last four years, said she found a lack of long-range planning for the arts around the country.

Alexander, who is 57, announced last week that she will return to the stage. She had just won a battle in Congress to keep the federal government the biggest single dispenser of money to writers and arts groups. Congress has promised $98 million for the year that began Oct. 1 _ down from a peak of $176 million in 1992.

Lee Kessler, head of the advocacy group American Arts Alliance, said the effect of that loss of seed money remains to be seen. ``There is no safety net for the arts,″ she said.

The number of opera companies rose from 27 in 1965 to 120 in 1994, and theater companies grew from 56 to 425, the NEA reports. But money to support them has not increased as fast. Private giving, adjusted for inflation, rose from about $3 billion to about $10.24 billion in those years, according to ``Giving USA 1997,″ an annual survey of donations to the arts and humanities that showed an upturn in 1996 after a three-year decline.

A large share of the money comes from individuals, said Bob Lynch, head of the group Americans for the Arts. Another group, the Conference Board, which tracks money given by corporations, says the amount they give to the arts is declining as a proportion of their total giving.

The NEA’s report was put together from material collected at forums in six cities last year.

``Sad to say, many American citizens fail to recognize the direct relevance of arts to their lives,″ the report says. ``Until arts institutions begin to forge closer ties with the community around them, they will remain largely irrelevant.″

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