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Trump Tries to Eliminate the NEA and NEH, Again

WASHINGTON, D.C.—On Monday, March 11, President Trump released a $4.75 trillion budget proposal for the 2020 fiscal year—the largest in federal history. Titled “A Promise for a Better America: Promises Kept. Taxpayers First.”, the budget includes a 5 percent increase in military funding and $8.6 billion for Trump’s US-Mexico border wall—about $3 billion more than the amount that led to the government shutdown. It also proposes drastic cuts to domestic programs—such as Medicare and Medicaid, education, and environmental protections—and once again targets the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

According to the complete proposal, which wasn’t made public until today, “activities funded by NEA are not considered core Federal responsibilities, and make up only a small fraction of the billions spent each year by arts nonprofit organizations.” The budget proposes awarding the NEA only $29 million and the NEH $38 million to allow for the “orderly termination of all operation over two years.” Both agencies had been allotted $155 million each by Congress for the 2019 budget—a boost from previous years.

By citing a report that says the NEA, NEH, and the Institute for Museum and Library Services collectively provided grants to more than seventy nonprofit organizations in 2016 that have asset bases larger than $1 billion, the budget asserts that these grantees can find alternative funding sources. It also states that charitable giving by individuals, foundations, and corporations are on the rise and that crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter should take the place of federal funding. “The Administration believes audiences and aficionados are better than the Government at deciding what art is good or important.”

Democrats in the House and Senate declared the budget “dead on arrival” on Sunday. “This is a budget for the military industrial complex, for corporate CEOs, for Wall Street and for the billionaire class,” Senator Bernie Sanders, independent of Vermont, said in a statement. “We don’t need billions of dollars for a wall that no one wants. We need a budget that works for all Americans, not just Donald Trump and his billionaire friends at Mar-A-Lago.”

While Congress is unlikely to pass the budget, it can be viewed as a roadmap of the current administration’s priorities and Trump’s future re-election campaign. For Representative Steve Womack, a Republican of Arkansas and the ranking member on the Budget Committee, only sharp reductions in spending can curb the United States’ national debt. He told the New York Times, “President Trump’s budget takes steps in the right direction, but there is still much work to do.”

Since Trump has been trying to eliminate the NEA and the NEH as well as the the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—which funds both PBS and NPR—and the Institute for Museum and Library Services since he took office three years ago, his 2020 budget comes as no surprise. 

In response to the new budget plan, the NEA provided Artforum with the following statement: “We see our funding actively making a difference with individuals in thousands of communities and in every Congressional District in the nation.”

“In fiscal year 2018, the National Endowment for the Arts made 2,322 awards totaling $121.2 million in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and the five additional U.S. jurisdictions. Those grants are leveraged by other public and private contributions up to 9:1, significantly increasing the impact of the federal investment.”

“In addition to grants, the Arts Endowment national initiatives extend our work through arts programming, such as Creative Forces that provides creative arts therapies for members of our military with traumatic brain injury and other psychological health conditions, resulting in more than 14,000 treatment sessions each year. Arts education initiatives, Poetry Out Loud and Shakespeare in American Communities, together involved more than 600,000 students in 2018. And in its ongoing role in natural disaster recovery, the Arts Endowment provided emergency funding of almost $650,000 to state arts agencies in Florida, Puerto Rico, Texas, and the U.S. Virgin Islands in the wake of hurricane devastation.”

“The President’s budget request is a first step in a very long budget process and we will continue to operate as usual while also assisting in that process.”

March 19, 2019