In a move many feared, the Trump administration has proposed cutting the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) from the federal budget. Since its creation in 1965 by President Lyndon H. Johnson, no other president has made such a dramatic threat to the cultural life of our nation.
Almost every Wyoming and Montana museum, symphony orchestra, cultural and arts program, jazz festival, not-for-profit theater, and educational arts organization depends on the NEA to survive.
In 2015-16, for example the NEA granted a total of $1,609,600 to the following Wyoming organizations:
- Art Association of Jackson Hole – To support the “Art In Translation” exhibition series with related artist residencies and educational programming.
- Buffalo Bill Memorial Association – To support the catalogue “Legacies: Indian Art from the Paul Dyck Collection” and to support “Painted Journeys: The Art of John Mix Stanley (1814-1872),” with an accompanying catalog and related educational activities.
- Hot Springs Greater Learning Foundation – To support the 2016 Big Horn Basin Folk Festival
- Jackson Hole Public Art – To support the commission of a series of public art works in Astoria Hot Springs Park and for the commission of public art for the North Cache Street corridor.
- University of Wyoming – To support an exhibition and catalogue on artist Brandon Ballengee at the University of Wyoming Art Museum and support the Wyoming tour of a multimedia concert and associated outreach activities.
- Wyoming Arts Council – To support Statewide arts organizations like the Park County Arts Council, which in turn, brings professional music and theater to the children and families in this rural county.
- Young Musicians, Inc. – To support the expansion of the Music, Arts & Theatre Camp.
NEH grants go to our museums, public libraries, our community colleges, university, public television, and radio stations.
The elimination of both agencies would total a mere $300 million out of the allotted $1.1 trillion overall annual discretionary spending—a small amount that would have a serious impact on access to cultural activities in our communities.
In addition to eradicating the NEA and NEH, President Trump’s outline also proposes to abolish the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, a major source of funding for Wyoming PBS, Montana PBS, and NPR-affiliated stations including Yellowstone Public Radio and Wyoming Public Radio.
Trump’s budget will be submitted to Congress for approval, and while it’s likely to be reviewed, debated, and edited, don’t expect Congressional Republicans to favor federally funded arts programs or public broadcasting. 20 years ago, then-Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich called the Corporation of Public Broadcasting “an elitist enterprise,” and many members of the party continue to hold that perspective.
What do the NEA and NEH do?
They issue grants. From the NEA website: “Established by Congress in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) is the largest national funder of nonprofit arts in the U.S. Annually, the NEA awards more than 2,200 grants and cooperative agreements, funding the arts in all 50 states and six U.S. jurisdictions, including urban and rural areas.”
All of the grants are viewable online. Below are total dollars the NEA granted between 1998 to March 2017 in Wyoming and Montana.
You can search for results here https://apps.nea.gov/grantsearch/ by simply typing in the search fields and clicking “Display Results.”
In 2015, the National Endowment for the Humanities awarded $121,540,617 to 822 projects in the U.S. through Education Programs, Preservation and Access, Public Programs, Research Programs, Challenge Grants, Digital Humanities, and Federal/State Partnerships. Local awards in 2015 were:
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) was created by Congress in 1967 to promote public media. The CPB receives approximately $450 million annually from the federal government, then distributes grants to local TV and radio stations and producers.
Will cutting the NEA and NEH help balance the national debt?
Funding for the national endowments currently makes up a minuscule portion — 0.00375% — of the nearly $4 trillion federal budget. In 2016, the NEA and NEH each received $148 million, money which provides crucial government grants for rural arts education and enrichment programs.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting’s 2016 annual budget was $445 million. Eliminating the CPB will save enough to pay for one year of the Air Force’s MQ-9 Reaper drone procurement.
What’s the rationale for eliminating funding for these cultural programs?
The national debt stands at $19.9 trillion dollars. The administration and conservative members of congress claim that the CPB, NEH, and NEA should stand on their own, and if they are unable to survive with private funding, they should be allowed to fail. Representative Peter Roskam has written:
“With our national debt … we must reexamine the federal budget for areas that do not require federal involvement. This includes eliminating taxpayer-subsidized media, which can be fully functional through private funding sources, such as individuals, businesses, foundations, and educational institutions.”
The dissonance in this reasoning is apparent to any member of a local public radio station. Individuals and businesses are supporting to the extent they can and foundations and educational institutions are facing funding cuts of their own.
What are our national priorities?
In just two months, the security for Donald Trump’s three trips to his Florida estate cost taxpayers $10 million dollars. In New York, the city is paying $500,000 a day to guard Trump Tower, according to police officials’ estimates, an amount that could reach $183 million a year.
This month, The Washington Post reported that Secret Service and U.S. Embassy staffers paid nearly $100,000 in hotel-room bills to support Eric Trump’s trip to promote a Trump-brand condo tower in Uruguay.
If you last visited the Washington headquarters of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts in 2014 and returned to say hello today you might be surprised. Both agencies moved out of the Old Post Office building on Pennsylvania Avenue to make way for a new tenant: the Trump International Hotel. It opened last fall after a renovation that cost more than $200 million, which, of course, is more than the budget of either of those agencies.