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NEA Cuts to 2012 Arts in Media Projects on PBS Confirmed

By KJ Relth

The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) has today confirmed cuts to several PBS-based arts and independent documentary series, including POV, Independent Lens, Art21, Great Performances, and American Masters. 2012 is the first year PBS programming falls under the new "Arts in Media" category (formerly "Arts in Radio and Television"), where it has to vie for funding against interactive websites, mobile phone and tablet apps, multimedia and transmedia (multi-platform storytelling) projects.

Last year, the 64 projects that fell under the Arts in Radio and Television category received over $4 million in funding. In 2012 under the newly coined Arts in Media category, 78 projects were granted just $3.55 million, down $450 thousand from the year prior. That means that less money will be going to 14 more projects in 2012, presenting several PBS documentary series with significant cuts to the funds they expected to receive.

Perhaps the hardest hit were American Masters and Great Performances, which each received $400 thousand in 2011 to support the broadcasting of documentary profiles of major cultural figures and 12 fully-staged operas, respectively. This year, each project will receive only $50 thousand, collectively losing out on $700 thousand of support. Art21, available via telecast and online streaming, will be granted $100K, down from $150K in 2011.

Indepedent Lens, which has been suffering a loss of viewers since its move from PBS’s core schedule on Tuesday nights to Thursdays, took another blow today when the NEA confirmed its grant amount of $50K. This amount is a significant drop from the $170K it received in 2011, further emphasizing the peril in which this program has found itself in recent months. Another PBS program, POV, which also moves to the Thursday night schedule when it airs in June, will receive $100K, down $150K from last year’s $250 thousand received under the Arts in Radio and Television category.

Other organizations seeing major cuts this year include NPR, Washington-based PBS station WETA, and the LA-based Craft in America.

The IDA is very concerned at the level of funding cuts for the most important and most watched nonfiction series on broadcast television.

We invite you to join us to discuss the future of PBS and their independent documentary programming at our upcoming Doc U: The Future of Docs on PBS on Thursday, May 10 at the Cinefamily in Los Angeles. Stay tuned as we announce panelists and provide resources to prepare you for this important conversation.