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In Stimulus Bill, Warner Initially Nixed Arts Money

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Virginia artists will get a crumb of the stimulus pie, no thanks to U.S. Sen. Mark Warner.

During the labyrinthine stimulus negotiations in Washington this month, Warner voted for an amendment that would exclude museums, theaters and arts centers from receiving any cash from the deal. Virginia's other senator, Jim Webb, voted for it.

Kevin Hall, Sen. Warner's director of communications, says Warner voted for the amendment that excluded arts because “the goal of the overall bill was to focus on the most stimulative and straight-forward projects that would maximize job creation in the near term.”

Peggy Baggett, executive director of the Virginia Commission for the Arts, opposed the amendment curtailing federal aid to the arts.

“There seems to be some notion that arts jobs are not real jobs,” she says. “If you're driving a nail into a set at the Barksdale you're just as much of a carpenter as if you're driving a nail into a new house.”

The Senate originally passed the amendment excluding arts groups as recipients, but Senate negotiators put it back in. That means $50 million will be infused into the National Endowment for the Arts, $20 million of which will be divided among all 56 arts commissions across the country.

The money is badly needed, Baggett says. In October Gov. Tim Kaine announced cuts of about $1 million in grants from state arts groups this fiscal year.

Sen. Warner has traditionally been viewed as supportive of the arts. His wife spearheaded the effort to erect a civil rights monument on Capitol Square. As governor in 2005, he led a group of arts administrators and boosters for a glitzy weekend in New York promoting Virginia institutions such as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts.

Warner eventually voted in favor of the stimulus package that passed.

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