Trump vs. the NEA

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On March 16, 2017, President Donald Trump’s FY 2018 Budget Blueprint caused a stir around the nation, especially within the arts community. The new budget proposes the elimination of four different agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), an organization that has helped to inspire, fund, and promote artists for decades.  

The National Endowment for the Arts is an “independent federal agency that works to give people across America the opportunity to participate in and experience the arts. Our funding is project-based and goes to thousands of nonprofits each year, along with partnerships and special arts initiatives, research and other support that contribute to the vitality of our neighborhoods, students and schools, workplace and culture.”

Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA has had an enormous impact on the arts community. In an interview with Electric Literature, writer Jennifer Haigh stated, “My NEA grant bought me time to finish writing my fifth book, News From Heaven, a collection of short stories I’d been chipping away at for seven years. The support was more than monetary; it gave me the encouragement I needed in the final stretch of a project that the publishing industry wasn’t exactly clamoring for… The truth is that writing literature is almost never profitable, but an occasional grant can sometimes make it possible. I hate to think of all the books that will never be finished if the NEA disappears.”

The NEA has helped to fund famous places such as the American Ballet Theatre, the American Film Institute, and the Sundance Film Festival, as well as various museums, operas, exhibitions, and theaters. It has helped to fund individual people such as Alice Walker, the first African-American woman to win the Pulitzer Prize and the author of the novel The Color Purple, as well as many actors, writers, artists, dancers, and musicians. Not only this, but the NEA grants are also used to help communities across the nation experience the arts. 40% of NEA-supported activities occur in high poverty neighborhoods, and 33% of NEA grants assist low-income audiences. Why would anyone want to take away an organization that has such a clear impact on communities and individuals across the nation?

Sadly, the disappearance of the NEA could become a reality. Trump’s budget plan proposes the complete elimination of the NEA’s $148 million dollar budget, which would be extremely detrimental to the organization. The money that is given to the NEA by the government equates to about 0.012% of federal discretionary spending (about one-one hundredth of one percent). A miniscule amount of the government’s trillion dollar budget. In addition, funding for the NEA amounts to about 46 cents per capita, whereas it is estimated that the cost of security for Melania Trump and their son in New York costs about $1 million dollars a day.  

On March 16, 2017, the NEA released a statement responding to Trump’s proposed budget, saying,

“Today we learned that the President’s FY 2018 budget blueprint proposes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. We are disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every Congressional District in the nation.

We understand that the President’s budget request is a first step in a very long budget process; as part of that process we are working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prepare information they have requested. At this time, the NEA continues to operate as usual and will do so until a new budget is enacted by Congress.

We expect this news to be an active topic of discussion among individuals and organizations that advocate for the arts. As a federal government agency, the NEA cannot engage in advocacy, either directly or indirectly. We will, however, continue our practice of educating about the NEA’s vital role in serving our nation’s communities.”

When asked about her opinion on the defunding of the NEA, Anna Galanides (‘17), who has participated in multiple Collegiate theater productions, stated, “I’m upset by Trump’s choice to defund the NEA because as someone who is interested in pursuing a career in the arts, it is disheartening to know that something that I am so passionate about is not supported by the government. I can’t imagine a society without art… Art is culture. Trump is defunding culture.” Olivia Dimond (‘18), who has been involved with Collegiate theater since her freshman year, said, “I couldn’t live without the arts. Sadly, so many people already disregard art and don’t see it as a valid career option. The government should be using this organization to set a standard and help to support art, which is such an important aspect of our society.”

The fact that the Trump administration is proposing to eliminate a program that has existed in order to support the arts is a mistake. The NEA helps to ensure that the arts are able to be introduced and experienced by all Americans, regardless of socio-economic background. It has helped to create jobs, inspire and encourage artists, and helped to educate and evoke change within communities across the nation. By defunding the NEA, an organization that contributes to very little of the federal budget, the government is taking away opportunities for culture to thrive. Art is created to express ideas and feelings. It is used to provoke, tell stories and histories, show what can and cannot be seen or told. Art is so much more than entertainment; it is a form of expression that is unhindered by societal standards or views. It is a way to inspire. Without the arts, what do we have?

Featured image courtesy of the NEA.

About the author

Olivia Laskin is a senior at Collegiate School.