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'March'-ing to Arts Days

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Advocates for public arts funding are gearing up for their two major March war parties.

On Tues., March 6, New York arts supporters will roll into Albany for the annual Arts Day, which traditionally brings the grassroots and celebrities together with their political leaders: a drive to up the ante on the governor's proposed state arts budget.

On Monday and Tuesday, March 19-20, a nationwide grassroots gathering will occur at Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C.

At Albany, advocates will join Sigourney Weaver and other stars at a rally beginning at 11 am in Hearing Room A of the Legislative Office Building (LOB). The Alliance of New York State Arts Organizations, which sponsors and administers Arts Day, will provide talking points and documents to support additional funding.

"We now have five consecutive years of significant increases for arts funding" for the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA), the alliance tells its members on its website. "Let's continue to increase public support for the arts."

An alliance flyer notes, "This year we want a $7 million increase over last year's final NYSCA appropriation, bringing the total budget to $60 million-a level last seen in 1989! The governor's budget, while an increase over last year's initial proposal, represents a $4.4 million cut to local assistance. But this is only the first salvo in the complex Albany budget negotiation process...where we CAN and DO make a difference. We can influence and change the outcome."

Glynis Gotwald, NYSCA's public information director, told Back Stage on Tuesday that Gov. George Pataki's new budget proposal includes $49.5 million for NYSCA. That represents $44 million for local assistance, or programs. The remaining $5.5 million would go for agency operations. He proposed a total budget of $48.3 million last year.

The legislature last year ended up raising the actual arts budget to $53.3 million. That was $5 million higher than Pataki's request, but less than half of the $10.9 million increase advocates had wanted.

Information: Alliance of New York State Arts Organizations, phone (631) 298-1234, fax (631) 298-1101, www.thealliancenys.org.

Rallying for NEA

President Bush's budget outline, which he planned to submit to Congress this week on Wednesday, is likely to cut funds for almost every agency except the defense, health, and education departments, according to his recent statements. Artswire reports that the Interior Department, which encompasses the federal cultural agencies, may face modest reductions.

At press time, Bush hadn't proposed a new arts budget. The National Endowment for the Arts' current budget is $105 million. Bill Ivey, the NEA's chairman, has said in the past that he'd like to see an increase to $200 million.

With that in mind, arts public-funding advocates will flock to the nation's capitol March 19-20 for two days of political transfusions.

First, on Monday they'll be energized through an afternoon of training workshops, preparing them for lobbying their congressional delegations and leaders and neighbors back home.

Following the classes, they'll gather for the annual Nancy Hanks lecture on arts and public policy, given by Frank Rich, op-ed columnist and theatre critic for The New York Times. It takes place at Kennedy Center's Eisenhower Theater.

Then, Tuesday sees the congressional arts breakfast, followed by a day of lobbying visits on Capitol Hill, ending with debriefings before returning home.

Arts Advocacy Day is held in conjunction with the Congressional Arts Caucus, and many members of Congress will be involved in the events. Additionally, more than 60 national arts, humanities, educational, and civic organizations co-sponsor this gathering annually.

Info: Americans For The Arts, phone (202) 371-2830, fax (202) 371-0424; www.artsusa.org.

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