Plan to Defund Federal Government Arts Programs Is Revealed

January 20, 2017

On Thursday, January 19, The Hill reported that the incoming administration had a plan to cut the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities from the federal budget, and to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

“The proposed cuts hew closely to a blueprint published last year by the conservative Heritage Foundation, a think tank that has helped staff the Trump transition,” wrote Alexander Bolton for The Hill.

“Overall, the blueprint being used by Trump’s team would reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.” But it is not clear whether any cuts will be made to Social Security or Medicare, by far the largest contributors to the national debt, along with military spending.

Philip Bump, writing for The Washington Post, discussed The Hill’s story and included some much needed graphic visualization. Out of the $3.9 billion the US government spent last year, $445 million went to the Corporation of Public Broadcasting, and the NEA and NEH each received $148 million. Total, those three figures are less than 0.02 percent of federal spending.

“Put another way, if you make $50,000 a year, spending the equivalent of what the government spends on these three programs would be like spending less than $10,” Bump wrote. “That’s not nothing, which is the point that those seeking to reduce the federal deficit would be quick to point out. The problem is that on the scale of government spending, it’s awfully close to nothing—meaning that it’s not going to do much to close that gap. If the Trump team wants to slice out $1.05 trillion annually (divvying up that $10.5 trillion number), ending funding for these three programs only gets you 0.074 percent of the way there.”

The arts community reacted to the news swiftly. PEN America released a press release on the issue, and its Executive Director Suzanne Nossel writes,

The Trump administration’s plans, reported in The Hill this morning, to abolish wholesale the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts are an outrageous abdication of the U.S. government’s proud history of support for groundbreaking research and creative endeavors that have served as engines of innovation and bolstered America’s stature as a haven for free thinkers and a global leader in humanity’s shared quest for knowledge.

Here at AWP, the news is striking, but not surprising. “At AWP, we have worried that public funding for the arts and arts education would someday need strong political support,” said Executive Director David Fenza. “And so we established our partnership with Americans for the Arts Action Fund. Now is the time for all of us to respond to action alerts from Action Fund. AWP members should check their membership profiles to make sure that they have indicated they wish to receive action alerts. The NEA and the NEH need our support now.”

As the Americans for the Arts organization reports, of the many reasons to support the arts is that it is a financially sound investment: “The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis reports that the arts and culture sector is a $704 billion industry, which represents 4.2 percent of the nation’s GDP—a larger share of the economy than transportation and agriculture. The nonprofit arts industry alone generates $135 billion in economic activity annually (spending by organizations and their audiences) that supports 4.1 million jobs and generates $22.3 billion in government revenue.”

Americans for the Arts president and CEO Robert Lynch told Washington Post writer Peggy McGlone, “These are old ideas, some more than a decade old. We take it seriously, but there’s a budget process and a lot of points of intersection.”

McGlone also spoke to US Representative Louise M. Slaughter (D-NY), co-chair of the congressional Arts Caucus, who said that “proposals to eliminate the independent agencies don’t make fiscal sense. ‘Every dollar the NEA spends we get back $9 or $10 to the Treasury. It’s penny wise and pound foolish.’”

The National Humanities Alliance offered its own petition and response:

NEH grants catalyze private investment. Small organizations leverage NEH grants to attract additional private, local support. NEH’s Challenge Grant program has leveraged federal funds at a 3:1 ratio to enable organizations to raise more than $3 billion in private support. State Humanities Councils, meanwhile, leverage $5 for every dollar of federal investment. Grants through the Public Programs division have leveraged more than $16 billion in non-federal support, an 8:1 ratio.

Concerned writers and AWP members can connect with Americans for the Arts to get involved. One way to start is to sign its petition to the new president to support the arts. Continue to support these important organizations by calling and writing representatives to voice your opinion.



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