by Ariella Axelbank
In the days leading up to Trump’s inauguration, I started seeing reports (from minor but generally trustworthy news sources) about Trump’s plans to gut/eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts. As a theater artist with a strong academic interest in government funding for the arts in this country and others, it seemed like a good thing to investigate, especially since very few of the major news networks seemed to be reporting on it, at least initially. Here’s what I found:
– On 1/19, The Hill published an article reporting that the Trump transition team is working on budget proposal that includes, among other things, privatizing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB; the government-funded organization that in turn funds things like NPR and PBS), and eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
– Although the Hill article did not publishe the Trump budget proposal itself, it did confirm that based largely on blueprints published by the Heritage Foundation (a conservative think tank from which many Trump staffers have been pulled) and them Republican Study Committee (RSC; a caucus containing a majority of House Republicans).
– According to the Heritage Foundation blueprint recommends eliminating the NEA because “taxpayer assistance of the arts is neither necessary nor prudent” and “taxpayers should not be forced to pay for plays, paintings, pageants, and scholarly journals, regardless of the works’ attraction or merit.” According to the RSC blueprint, “the federal government should not be in the business of funding the arts. Support for the arts can easily and more properly be found from non-governmental sources.” Similarly, the RSC blueprint justifies its proposal or privatizing the CPB by claiming that “A free society should not have government-supported media outlets, especially ones that so often convey political news and opinion.”
– Although the Hill article did not name its sources, it did say that the White house is planning to release a full budget blueprint within Trump’s first 45 days, and a full budget within the first 100 days.
– It should be noted that Congress, not the president, is ultimately responsible for creating and passing a budget. The House has not voted on the RSC budget this year, but in previous years it has failed to pass even the Republican-controlled House. However, the White House budget does assist in setting policy and showcasing the administration’s agenda.
– According to The Hill, the Trump team’s blueprint aims to reduce federal spending by 10.5 trillion over 10 years. See this pie chart for just what percentage of the budget currently goes to the NEA, NEH, and CPB.
– Regardless of how much relative cash the government actually spends on the arts, it is clear that reducing and/or eliminating funding for the NEA, NEH, and CPB has been a pet issue of the Republicans for a while. For example, the initial budget proposal created by the House Budget Committee (chaired by Paul Ryan) for fiscal year 2014 included a reduction of 49% of the NEA’s 2013 budget because, according to the report released alongside the budget, “the activities and content funded by [the NEA, NEH, and CPB] go beyond the core mission of the federal government, and they are generally enjoyed by people of higher-income levels, making them a wealth transfer from poorer to wealthier citizens.” Although this particular budget cut did not make it into the final Omnibus Budget package passed by both houses of Congress, it indicates the Republicans’ attitudes to such programs. It should be noted, too, that this particular assertion – that the NEA is just a way for the poor to fund activities for the rich, has been proven untrue by The New York Times and others.
While I think the way the NEA is organized means that it is already very limited in terms of what art it chooses to fund and how it fund that art, I ultimately believe that it’s better than nothing. I personally believe that we desperately need more government funding for the arts, not less, and as an artist, I pledge to watch this particular issue VERY closely.
Ariella Axelbank is a Brooklyn-based stage manager, lighting designer, performance photographer, and theater technician.
A collection of pieces by our network
Want to write for this blog?