Friday, February 08, 2008

PBS and NEA Cuts and Indies

Via the NYTimes, President Bush has proposed major cuts to both the NEA and PBS. No, this isn't that old hoax email going around again - according to the article, Bush's budget "would cut in half the $400 million allocated in advance by Congress for fiscal year 2009 and cut $220 million from the $420 million already planned for 2010" for PBS. Furthermore, "President Bush proposed eliminating advance funds for 2011, along with any additional funds in 2009 for stations to convert to digital transmission, which is federally mandated. They are the deepest cuts yet proposed by the administration."

This is just for PBS. He's also proposed cuts for the NEA. From the Times again: "the administration proposed a cut of $16.3 million — to $128.4 million from $144.7 million" for the NEA.

I don't usually post on NYTimes articles, but a quick perusal of some of my favorite film blogs tells me that perhaps this isn't getting enough coverage. Blame the strike, Sundance and Berlin jet-lag and the simple fact that this seems a familiar story. Personally, I actually wondered for a few minutes if I cared. The NEA hasn't been much of a force in indie film for awhile, and I can't remember the last time I just had to watch a PBS program. But, the reality is that the NEA is among the few funding sources left for both indie films and for the variety of orgs that support them - everyone from film festivals to regional nonprofits. I know the staff there, and they truly care about helping indie films, even if they have a limited budget. Public broadcasting includes gems like POV and ITVS, not to mention smaller groups that have even bigger impact in the field with tiny budgets, like NBPC and CAAM. I don't know how these cuts would impact their bottom line, but it can't be good.

More importantly, to me at least, these cuts come at a critical time for the field. PBS needs to be thinking about how to reinvent itself - it is sorely behind the time in terms of the digital transformation happening around us. Now, instead of focusing on being relevant in five years, they have to focus on keeping the pittance they get from Congress (much less than in other countries). The NEA has been consistently trying hard to do well, and they get cut while the Smithsonian - which seems to have broken every rule in the book - gets extra funding?? How does that happen?

The NEA remains a good source of support for the indie cause, and PBS maintains one of the few consistent outlets for indie film, so for that alone, people who care should be learning more and contacting those in power. Don't think it's going to just blow over. "Ken Stern, chief executive of National Public Radio, said in an interview that even though public broadcasters had been successful in fighting off past proposed cuts, this year could be different. “I worry that this gets lost in a whole lot of other issues,” he said, acknowledging that it was also “an incredibly tight budget year.”"

How do you get involved? Great question, and one which makes me think maybe they deserve this. Even as an informed person in the arts (I think), it took me fifteen minutes of advanced searching to find any action items regarding this. Awards go to Americans for the Arts for their action center regarding the NEA funding. I didn't find them on Google, but I had a hunch they'd be on top of things - lord help you if you just search for action links on Google. After searching for ten more minutes on every PBS site, and even their own activist orgs, I had to give up on PBS. Not encouraging.

1 comment:

Aavarnum said...

How else do we pay for the war unless we cut spending elsewhere? I hate that; I don't want my taxes spent killing Iraqis and making war contractors rich, but the people have lost control over our government. This is a big issue, but I'm afraid public media isn't the only thing that is going to suffer hard in the coming years.