Here's what's at stake for Philly arts and culture if the NEA and other agencies get axed

Nonprofits could lose a key catalyst for fund-raising

Photos - local - HASSAM - EARLY MORNING ON THE AVENUE - ADDISON GALLERY
NEA insurance coverage helped bring Childe Hassam's "Early Morning on the Avenue" and other masterpieces to PAFA for the current blockbuster World War I exhibit.

A little-known and cryptically named national office -- the indemnity program of the Federal Council on the Arts and Humanities -- has often provided insurance for museums in Philadelphia and the rest of the United States for art they borrow from museums and private collectors around the country and the world. 

It's what allowed works by Childe Hassam, Horace Pippin, and others to travel here for the current Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts show "World War I and American Art". The Brandywine River Museum of Art and Seattle Art Museum will use insurance coverage from the program for the forthcoming blockbuster "Andrew Wyeth: In Retrospect" at the Brandywine starting June 24.

Now, the future of the indemnity program, administered by the National Endowment for the Arts, is in doubt as the Trump administration tries to eliminate the NEA, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

And it’s one compelling example of what Philadelphians who love the arts -- and, for that matter, Philadelphians who make their living creating them -- would stand to lose if the three federal agencies were, indeed, eliminated, as the Trump administration's first budget proposes. The arts and culture community is alarmed and plans to gather its forces April 6 at PAFA for a community briefing on the matter.

The loss of grants from the three federal agencies would also end an important source of seed money and credibility that encourages private donors to come aboard early in a project's life. And it would hinder easy access for children and for underserved communities to shows and programs that well-heeled patrons take for granted.

Since 2012, 98 Philadelphia organizations have received a total of $7.7 million from the NEA alone.

"If you look at Philadelphia, there are smaller institutions that might not survive,"  Kimmel Center president and CEO Anne Ewers says of the potential elimination of all three agencies. "We've got a city that's known for robust arts and that has been a draw to residents and businesses, and I think the entire region would be strongly impacted by that."

The threat to traveling exhibits

The indemnity program provides insurance for art shows with especially high values that exceed standard blanket coverage, and it has eased the movement of art nationally and internationally for decades. It covered insurance for many of the 160 works by 80 artists traveling as part of PAFA's World War I show, along with works in the Philadelphia Museum of Art's big "International Pop"show last year, to name just two recent critically acclaimed crowd-pleasers.

"There is a very high value on the art that exceeds our own insurance," says PAFA president and CEO David R. Brigham. Without it, "we'd have to go out and get insurance," which in this case would have cost about $80,000, Brigham said -- a potentially difficult task.

How difficult? "It's hard to say," he said, though he noted that the last gifts were in the $1,000 and $5,000 range. "In other words, we had exhausted our major funding sources," he said.

The NEA's support in Philadelphia will pay dividends elsewhere: The show is on view at PAFA through April 9 and then travels to the New York Historical Society and the Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville.

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has made good use of the federal insurance program, receiving funding for several recent exhibitions, including "Ink and Gold: The Art of Kano," and its show on Michelangelo, Titian, and Rubens.

"The indemnification program has proven invaluable as a means for enabling museums across the country to present important exhibitions in their communities, and to eliminate it would have a broad negative impact," said Art Museum spokesman Norman Keyes.

Seed money for donors, art for all

Were the NEA, NEH, and IMLS cuts to come to pass, they would remove a trio of tools often used in Philadelphia to shake loose larger sources of philanthropy, arts leaders said. Maud Lyon, president of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, said the potential loss for the future of arts philanthropy would go beyond the direct disappearance of funding.

"It's not just about the magnitude of money, although that does add up," she said. "Money from the NEA, NEH, and IMLS does two things really well that are not replicated by any other resource. It's critical seed funding for the early thinking, the scholarship, the preservation of artworks, the research -- things that help to plan exhibitions, concerts, or productions that then turn into something other funders will support that would not happen."

The second benefit of NEA funding is to provide better access to the arts, Lyon said. "A lot of federal funding goes into after-school programs, it goes to rural areas, to underserved audiences for summer camps, and online learning programs. What it comes down to is that the arts are often accused of being elitist, and if this federal funding goes away, that will only make it more so. Federal funding makes the arts more accessible."

The Philadelphia Orchestra was recently awarded a $75,000 NEA grant to support the work it does at Broad Street Ministry for a weekly songwriting/improvisation and listening class for guests, particularly for those experiencing trauma, and an additional $75,000 for various community concerts.

"Most often, NEA grants come with a matching requirement, so that is often helpful in leveraging other sources," said Bradford Voigt, orchestra vice president for development.

Others who stand to lose

Local groups that receive NEA funding span all genres and sizes. The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society receives $15,000 annually. "This grant is vital to PCMS and to helping to keep our staff employed," said PCMS artistic director Miles Cohen.

Funding from the NEH to groups in Philadelphia and nearby towns within Pennsylvania's Second Congressional District has totaled $8.6 million between 2012 and 2016, Lyon said. Many grants from both the NEA and NEH, she says, are under $50,000, in the $10,000 to $25,000 range. "I can tell you that a $25,000 grant to an organization with a budget less than $250,000 is huge and transformative," she said.

The Free Library of Philadelphia recently received a $543,618 grant from IMLS for literacy help consolidation, language classes, computers for job-seekers, and job training. That grant is secure, but it represents the kind of program threatened by the possible elimination of the IMLS.

Also on the ropes is nearly $1 million that flows from the NEA into the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, which issues its own grants, each year. Most of that money goes toward the PCA administrative budget, says PCA executive director Philip Horn. How such a loss would be made up is not clear. "That would be up to the governor and the General Assembly," Horn said.

PAFA has received a total of $1.8 million from the three agencies over the last eight or so years, Brigham said. Grants have paid for educational programs for underserved youth, as well as exhibitions on Barkley Hendricks, Peter Blume, Norman Lewis, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.

A $40,000 NEH grant paid for planning a state-of-the-art storage facility for works of art on paper and archives. Then, a $300,000 NEH grant helped pay to build it -- money which in turn lured other gifts to cover the full project cost. Brigham said that their role as a catalyst was clear. "This would be a very different institution and cultural landscape without this support," he said.

Mann Center for the Performing Arts president and CEO Catherine M. Cahill said the arts center was preparing two grant proposals to the NEA for community-focused programs over the next two years. "It's not easy to get an NEA grant -- they are competitive and they are very focused on making sure you are having a community impact. They want to make sure the arts are for everybody," she said.

Now, she said, the Mann must wait to see whether  there is an NEA to which it can apply.

NEA spokeswoman Victoria Hutter said the agency was in wait-and-see mode about its survival. "We don't know and really can't speculate," she said. "This is the first step in a long process. We are continuing to do our work, and continue to process grants and commence panels, and to carry on."