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Trump wants to axe NEA and other culture agencies

The president’s first federal budget proposal would also eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

By Helen Stoilas

The National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are among the 19 independent agencies President Trump has targeted for the axe as part of his first federal budget proposal, released to the public on Thursday, 16 March. Their combined funding, an estimate $3.1bn, would be redirected towards a $52.3bn increase in defense spending and $2.8bn boost for Homeland Security, which includes the building of a border wall between the US and Mexico.

While the budget has a number of hurdles to jump—including a military spending cap enforced as part of the 2011 Budget Control Act—arts groups have been quick to protest the proposed cuts. “Eliminating the NEA would be a devastating blow to the arts in America,” the Americans for the Arts Action Fund said in a statement. “For more than 50 years, the NEA has expanded access to the arts for all Americans, awarding grants in every Congressional district throughout all 50 states and US Territories as well as placing arts therapists in 12 military hospitals to help returning soldiers heal from traumatic brain injuries. The NEA is also an economic powerhouse, generating more than $600 million annually in additional matching funds and helping to shape a $730 billion arts and culture industry that represents 4.2% of the nation’s GDP and supports 4.8 million jobs.”

The Association of Art Museum Directors, whose members represent 245 museums across the country, says it strongly stands against the elimination of the arts and culture agencies. “Art touches people throughout their lives—from toddlers first learning about the world, to those with Alzheimer’s disease reconnecting with someone they love. Museums offer art programs to help teachers and homeschoolers prepare lessons, to train medical students to be better doctors, to ease the suffering of veterans with PTSD, and to share with people across the country the best of creative achievement. The NEA, NEH, and IMLS are essential partners in this work, providing grants to many types of nonprofit organizations and helping to bring the arts to every part of America, from rural areas to military bases to urban centers.”

The National Center for Arts Research (NCAR) released a report analyzing the real-life benefits of arts and cultural groups around the country, and how federal funding enhances their impact. It found that museums contributed an estimated $9.95bn to the US economy, while community based groups directly brought in $3.6bn. Arts and cultural organisations that received federal funding were able to up their employment by 1.5%. “The decimation of federal support is the coup de grâce of a long campaign carefully crafted to mislead the public into believing that the arts are irrelevant to most Americans,” NCAR’s director Zannie Voss, and research director Glenn B. Voss, write in the report. “Arts and culture aren’t ‘out there’ and just for an elite part of the population. They are closer and more immediate and personal than most people give them credit for being.”

The report concludes: “Retaining and growing federal support for arts and culture first requires shifting public perception to align with reality and taking back control of the rhetoric surrounding its connection to American life.”

Click here to read more about what defunding the NEA would mean for US museums