Cowboy poets likely to survive latest round of budget cuts

Chris Moody

At least for now, cowboy poets across America can rest a little easier.

The Western Folklife Center, which hosts Elko, Nevada's National Cowboy Poetry Gathering--made famous when Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid warned it might lose funding--is up for another grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Few would have known of the thriving community of cowboy poets--let alone that they receive federal funding--if not for Reid. The Nevada Democrat in April lambasted a Republican budget proposal that would have cut the NEA, which has awarded grants to the festival for decades.

"The mean-spirited bill," Reid said, referring to the Republican budget that never passed, "eliminates the National Endowment of the Humanities, National Endowment of the Arts. These programs create jobs. The National Endowment of the Humanities is the reason we have in northern Nevada every January a cowboy poetry festival. Had that program not been around, the tens of thousands of people who come there every year would not exist."

The NEA helped kickstart the annual program in the 1980s with a $50,000 grant and awarded the group more educational grants throughout the 1990s. For the past decade, the Western Folklife Center has received federal funding for various projects every year expect 2004. (It received an extra $50,000 through the 2009 stimulus package.)

The organization has a five-figure grant pending for fiscal year 2012 to help fund a video project, said Taki Telonidis, media producer of the Western Folklife Center.

"It's actually for a component for the Poetry Gathering that they've not supported before but what we feel is a 21st-century way of telling stories from the rural West," Talonidis told The Ticket.

Of course, the Center is not guaranteed the funding. Now that Congress has passed a bill that will slow the growth of government spending by $3 trillion over ten years, there will be less money for the NEA, making the grant process more competitive.

Details on specific cuts are still pending, but the latest report from the House Budget Committee shows that the NEA's projected budget could be reduced by 13 percent next year from fiscal year 2011 levels, and eight percent below the agency's requested budget.

So if you find yourself in Elko next year, be sure to drop by the Cowboy Poetry Gathering. After all, you've already paid for it.