The artist community has largely resisted Donald Trump, and now it seems the President is returning the favor.
Trump has called for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts in his first federal budget plan, according to the New York Times. He has also proposed to cut the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting which largely funds NPR and PBS. The full extent of the President’s budget is expected at some point on Thursday.
None of this is good for artists, nor for the state of arts culture in the United States.
The NEA and NEH were created in 1965 under President Lyndon B. Johnson, in order to “nurture American creativity, to elevate the nation’s culture, and to sustain and preserve the country’s many artistic traditions.” The agency has awarded grants for many genres of music — orchestral, jazz, opera amongst them — and in more recent years has helped fund music festivals, and initiatives featuring the likes of David Bowie and Lou Reed and Esperanza Spaulding. Overarchingly, the NEA helps fund arts programes in lower-income areas in each of the 50 states. It also has put on a celebratory concert featuring the likes of Usher, MC Late, and Queen Latifah.
Since its inception, the NEA has given over 145,000 grants totaling over $5BB to artists of all sorts, but the combined budgets of the NEA and NEH is only about $300MM which, which is a small fraction of the country’s $1.1 trillion discretionary spending.
Despite its small financial footprint, the NEA is firmly in Trump’s crosshairs. It has also long been a target of conservatives who reject the idea of state-sponsored arts programs. This is true, despite the NEA’s overt mission not to identify with any sociopolitical agenda.
But OK, so Trump wants to defund the arts. And while this budget is merely advisory and has no immediate effect on these agencies — since budgets ultimately are passed by Congress — where would Trump rather see the money go?
The most notable department which would see an increase in funding per Trump’s new budget is military and defense. Other departments that would see cuts are Environmental Protection Agency by 31%, the State Department by 28% and Health and Human Services by 17.9%. Meanwhile, agencies aimed at poverty relief, like the Legal Services Corporation, would be cut entirely.
It’s a new front in the war over art, amongst other cultural areas. It’s in Congress’s hands now. If you care, call your Representatives.