Last week, the administration of President Donald Trump sent shockwaves through the art world when it shared its federal budget, which calls for completely scrapping the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The president and his pals are evidently blind to the value of art, but as many of us know so well, both agencies have supported countless individuals and organizations with the roughly .004% of the federal budget that each receives annually.
To illustrate just how beneficial the NEA’s work has been, artist and environmental engineer Tega Brain has programmed a website that scrolls through the types of grants the NEA awarded last year alone. Like end credits of a movie, each funded project moves slowly down your screen in bright colors to form a simple but clear message: we really need the NEA.
“If this type of support didn’t exist, these communities wouldn’t have access to the modest but absolutely critical $10K or $20K grants that makes these projects possible,” Brain told Hyperallergic. “I hoped the site would show the assumption that NEA mostly funds privileged urban communities to be false. In fact, I’ve heard the odds of getting support in a rural area is much higher than in an urban place.”
Brain drew the data straight from the agency’s website; here, rephrased in one-liners that summarize each grant, you get a clear sense of the diversity of the funded projects: art workshops for state prisons in San Bernadino; a concert for LGBTQ youth in Minnesota; a music outreach program for immigrants and refugees in Nebraska; an indigenous film festival in Denver; a puppetry program in Detroit; a performance collaboration between artists and homeless veterans in Connecticut; and exhibitions that examine issues related to income inequality in Alabama, to name just a few. From the identities of those involved to the medium or format of each project to the regions where they occur, the information provided on Brain’s site makes abundantly clear that the NEA is an essential government agency that benefits a vast array of citizens across the country.
“Kickstarter raises large amounts of funding for creative practices; however, their crowdsourced model favors artists in dense urban areas with access to larger communities and networks,” Brain said. “If you live in a remote place, where it’s already hard to get attention and support for your art, you are going to have a much harder time promoting your work in a Kickstarter campaign. And you’re probably not going to be able to raise funds for community education and engagement projects or for residency programs that support an artist’s professional development as these things don’t yield specific outcomes. This is one of the many reasons why the NEA is so important.”
So what can you do to save public funding for the arts? Call your local representatives, and sign the official petition to the White House (although that may, scarily, not be accurately registering votes). You’ll find links to both options on Brain’s website as well; let’s work to ensure she could make another next year — but out of gratitude, rather than urgency.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.