Cactus dances, Christopher Columbus assassination plays receive taxpayer funding
By: Elizabeth Harrington
The National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities is giving millions of taxpayer dollars to nonprofits with assets of over $1 billion.
OpenTheBooks.com, a transparency watchdog group, released a report this week highlighting egregious examples of arts funding going towards museums, universities, and nonprofit organizations that hardly need federal funding.
The National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities issued $20.5 million in grants to "asset-rich" nonprofit groups with assets of $1 billion or more in 2016 alone.
The foundation is the umbrella organization for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).
"Why are taxpayers funding nonprofits that have assets of at least $1 billion?" OpenTheBooks.com said. "Do charities have a right to public funding no matter how strong their balance sheet?"
"Who can explain the public purpose in forcing working-class taxpayers to fund arts organizations that obviously don't need the money?" the group added.
The report highlighted numerous examples of arts funding that went to questionable projects.
The Borderlands Theater, which received $10,000 from the NEA in December for a play about going back in time to kill Christopher Columbus, also received funding for dance performances with a cactus.
"First, attendees stand or sit with a saguaro cactus for an hour in the middle of the desert," OpenTheBooks.com said. "Participants are encouraged to see what the cactus can teach them during this hour and share their experience on social media using the hashtag #IStandWithSaguaros."
The funding also went to a podcast on the cactus and a "cactus celebration" involving story, song, poem, and dance.
The Borderlands Theater's annual revenue is $228,461, and received $90,000 from the federal government since 2009.
The richest organization to receive taxpayer funding is the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. The museum has $4 billion in assets.
"Yet, the Met received $1.22 million in grants and contracts from the NFA-H (FY2009-FY2016). Calendar year 2016 was the biggest year of NFA-H grants to the Met, which received $551,028," OpenTheBooks.com said.
The Sundance Institute, Robert Redford's host organization for the Sundance Film Festival, has received $3.3 million in arts grants from the government since 2009. Sundance has annual revenues of $37.1 million.
National Public Radio, which has $355 million in assets, received $140,000 from the arts foundations in fiscal year 2016.
The Feminist Press in New York City has annual revenues of nearly $1 million and received $55,000 from taxpayers in 2016 and $297,500 since 2009. The most recent grant went to the "publication of books of fiction and nonfiction and the digitization of classic LGBT titles."
"The Feminist Press' catalogue includes provocative titles such as: The Crunk History of Feminism; The Feminist Porn Book; Give It to Me; $pread; and Johnny Would You Love Me If My D**k Was Bigger," OpenTheBooks.com noted.
The group is also involved in "Drag Queen Story Hour" in Brooklyn.
Fresh Meat Productions in San Francisco has annual revenues of $459,021 and has received $35,000 in government arts funding since 2009. Most recently, the theater group received a $15,000 grant from the NEA for a "full-throttle" gay and transgender dance performance about AIDS.
Fresh Meat is also commissioning a play, "Boy Bites Back," which censors President Donald Trump's name on its website.
"As the shadow of Tr*mp's rule falls over LGBTQ communities across the US, Sean Dorsey Dance bites back with full-throttle dance, luscious queer partnering, highly-physical theater and storytelling that celebrate expansiveness and reject compulsory conformity," a description of the play states.
The San Francisco Mime Troupe, which also recently received a $20,000 NEA grant for a musical about a lesbian illegal immigrant who is in love with an ICE agent, is highlighted in the new report. The self-described socialist theater group in San Francisco has total assets of $220,302 and annual revenues of $342,206.
OpenTheBooks.com reported that 432 employees who work for the federal arts foundations receive an average $126,415 in salary and benefits each year.