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FL flacks fear arts ax



When she's not answering questions from reporters, Kathy Engerran coordinates all publications by the state's Division of Cultural Affairs, including those referred to by anyone applying for more than $20 million a year in state grants. She also coordinates the state's Individual Artists program,writes press releases and speeches, and coordinates all state arts awards programs and presentations. The future of Engerran's job, as well as those of five other staffers -- roughly one third of the department's workforce -- would be in jeopardy, were the U.S. Congress to fulfill past pledges to zero out National Endowment for the Arts funding in the next two years. NEA makes grants directly to arts organizations and indirectly through state arts agencies. In 1997, the only grant directly to an Orlando group was for $36,400 to the University of Central Florida, the Florida Alliance for Arts Education and Arts for Complete Education for a study designed to help these groups develop a cooperative program promoting arts education in public schools. There were 11 other grants made to Florida groups and individuals, totaling $556,200. Meanwhile, more than $440,000 from the NEA went toward staff and administrative expenses of the state Division of Cultural Affairs. So, while little NEA funding directly benefits Orlando arts organizations, any cuts would hinder the performance of the state office responsible for coordinating state initiatives and doling out state grants: $2.5 million to Orange County artists and organizations in 1996-97. "It doesn't need to be trimmed more," said Pete Edwards, chairman of the Arts for Complete Education program. "What America business is looking for, the arts delivers." On Capitol Hill, House and Senate committees are considering the NEA's fate. Already it has been totally reorganized: staffing has been halved and annual funding cut from $162 million in 1995 to $99 million in both 1996 and 1997. Two years ago, House Speaker Newt Gingrich and other Republican leaders agreed to eliminate the NEA, effective next year. In March, Congress began deliberations on the issue. After supporting its continuation, Gingrich most recently has rejoined those favoring NEA's termination. Meanwhile, President Clinton has proposed raising the budget to $136 million, and House Majority Leader Dick Armey has said Republicans lack the votes to wipe out the funding. The picture will be painted later this summer. "I have the utmost confidence the NEA will continue," said Peyton Fearington, director of the Florida Department of State Division of Cultural Affairs. "I think we'll squeak by." At what level is the question. "At a minimum, we'll see the funding level reduced by 5 percent," said Sharon Pinkerton, legislative director for Congressman John Mica, (R-Winter Park). While supporting reform, Mica has been against eliminating NEA. In 1997, the Florida Legislature contributed about $26 million in funding to the Division of Cultural Affairs, including about $600,00 for staff costs. While budgets haven't been set for the next two years, no one expects legislators to up the state's ante to offset potential NEA cutbacks. "The whole mood is to do more with less. We're constantly being asked to cut back," Fearington said. Nor can state grant-making funds be shifted to pay for the salaries of anyone left out by NEA cuts, due to use restrictions. If the cuts come, Fearington said she would have to sit down with Secretary of State Sandra Mortham and look for a solution. "We don't have a lot of overflow here," Fearington said. Since 1989, three jobs have been chipped away. Fearington and Mortham may be back to sculpting this fall.

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