Let's go inside the numbers a bit using my particular lens. The NEA provides us with breakdowns according to county population and city population. The reason I focus on county population is that there are many places that officially have small populations, but are really bedroom communities for a much larger nearby metropolis. From my perspective, these are not small or rural communities, but extensions of the larger population center, and the arts options available to them are mostly to be found in the city. My focus is on small and rural communities that are in counties that are also small or rural. Nevertheless, let's examine both sets of numbers.
The data focused on the proposals that made the final cut, of which there were 103, 51 of which received grants, or about 49.5%. Here is a list of the county populations, how many proposals were submitted, how many awarded, and what percentage that represents:
- Under 100,000: Submitted 15, awarded 6 (40%)
- 100,000 to 500,000: Submitted 33, awarded 17 (51.5%)
- 500,000 - 2,500,000: Submitted 48, awarded 23 (47.9%)
- >2,500,000: Submitted 7, awarded 5 (71.4%)
- Under 100,000: Submitted 48, awarded 19 (39.5%)
- 100,000 - 500,000: Submitted 35, awarded 18 (51.4%)
- 500,000 - 2,500,000: Submitted 17, awarded 11 (64.7%)
- >2,500,000: Submitted 3, awarded 3 (100%) [interesting note: 100% proposals over 1M pop received awards)
The other analysis I did in my original post looked at those states that didn't receive an Our Town grant at all. Did they submit a proposal?
AL: Submitted 0, awarded 0
DE: Submitted 0, awarded 0
DC: Submitted 1, awarded 0
GA: Submitted 2, awarded 0
IN: Submitted 1, awarded 0
KS: Submitted 1, awarded 0
KY: Submitted 1, awarded 0
MT: Submitted 1, awarded 0
NH: : Submitted 1, awarded 0
NJ: : Submitted 1, awarded 0
NM: Submitted 0, awarded 0
NV: Submitted 0, awarded 0
OK: Submitted 0, awarded 0
OR: : Submitted 2, awarded 0
SD: Submitted 0, awarded 0
UT: Submitted 0, awarded 0
VA: Submitted 0, awarded 0
Analysis: Of the 17 states (including DC) who received no Our Town funding, 8 (47%) did not submit a proposal, and of those who did, 7 submitted only 1 proposal. .
You will see on page 1 of the document the organizations that the NEA contacted in an attempt to increase the number of applicants from small and rural communities. It is an extensive list that indicates a legitimate attempt was made to increase the number of submissions, and I enthusiastically applaud their efforts and concern, and wonder aloud whether their efforts were matched by representatives of those organizations. As Mr. Bennett notes, "We made a concerted effort to reach out to communities of every size, working with the organizations on the attached list -- including yours -- asking them to forward information about the Our Town grant opportunity. We would truly welcome your - and your readers' - ideas about other networks to activate and other ways to do outreach." And I urge readers to contribute their ideas in the comments.
Nevertheless, given what percentage of proposals from small and rural counties were tossed out in the final round by the peer reviewers (and it might be interesting to know how many of those reviewers were themselves from small or rural counties), one might fairly wonder whether the interest in non-metropolitan communities was shared by the panel. The fact that 100% of the proposals that came from cities with populations over a million suggests otherwise.
That the NEA is concerned about this is reflected in another sentence from Mr. Bennett's email to me: "This analysis leads me to believe that if we want to change how the NEA grantee pool looks, we need to change the applicant pool." I will be having a conversation with him to discuss my ideas later in the week, so if you have any ideas for accomplishing this, I'd love to hear it.
Finally, I was told about another conversation of this issue, in which someone wondered why we should be surprised about this tendency to slight small and rural areas -- after all, the NEA doesn't have addressing this issue as part of their mandate. For this person, and for those who think that this issue is somehow irrelevant, I would quote the 1965 act of Congress that mandated that the NEA dedicate itself "to supporting excellence in the arts, both new and established; bringing the arts to all Americans; and providing leadership in arts education."