Earlier today, the White House revealed its 2019 budget proposal, and just like last year, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) are on the chopping block. The déjà vu continues with the call for also eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), among other programs. President Donald Trump’s budget proposal includes a spending increase for the military, border security, and the ongoing opioid crisis, with his proposed budget for defense in 2019 swelling to a whopping $716 billion.
Although it’s Congress that passes the federal budget each year, and the president’s recommendations are merely that, this is the second year in a row that Trump has called for the elimination of the NEA and NEH. Trump’s 2019 “Major Savings and Reforms” document calls for slashing the NEA’s budget from $150 million in 2017 to $29 million in 2019. The NEH would similarly be cut down from $150 million in 2017 to $42 million in 2019.
The document cites as justification that enough funding exists outside of the federal government to keep the NEA’s projects afloat:
The Budget proposes to begin shutting down NEA in 2019, given the notable funding support provided by private and other public sources and because the Administration does not consider NEA activities to be core Federal responsibilities. In 2014, NEA funding represented just four percent of total public and private support for the arts in the United States.
The argument put forth in Trump’s budget for slashing funding for the NEH is almost identical:
The Budget proposes to begin shutting down NEH in 2019, given there are non-Federal sources of funding for humanities and the Administration does not consider the activities within this agency to be core Federal responsibilities. Non-Federal funding for humanities in the United States comes from private donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations.
Whether or not Congress heeds the president’s recommendations in next year’s budget remains to be seen. For now, funding for both the NEA and NEH has remained stable at Obama-era levels.
Update, 2/13/2018, noon: Following the release on Monday of the White House’s 2019 federal budget proposal, NEA Chairman Jane Chu and NEH released the following statement:
February 12, 2018
Today we learned that the President’s FY 2019 budget proposes elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. We are disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals in thousands of communities and in every Congressional District in the nation.
In FY 2018 to date, the NEA has awarded 1,134 grants totaling $26.68 million to organizations and individuals in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, launched a national songwriting competition for high school students, convened four summits across the country as part of Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network, issued a research report on the economic impact of the arts in rural communities, and distributed emergency funding to arts agencies in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico, and the US Virgin Islands, among other activities.
We understand that the President’s budget request is a first step in a very long budget process. We stand ready to assist in that process as we continue to operate as usual.
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.
The NEH released a statement of its own, available in full on the agency’s website, in which its Senior Deputy Chairman Jon Parrish Peede says: “As NEH awaits Congressional action on the President’s proposed budget, the agency is continuing normal operations and will be making the next round of FY 2018 awards following the meeting of the National Council in March.”
Update, 2/14/2018, 11:40 am: Lori Fogarty, the president of the Association of Art Museum Directors and director of the Oakland Museum of California has addressed a letter to President Trump in light of his 2019 federal budget proposal. It is included in full here:
Dear Mr. President,
As the president of the Association of Art Museum Directors and the director of the Oakland Museum of California, I was deeply distressed to learn that your Administration’s proposed budget calls for the defunding and “orderly shutdown” of the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, and Institute of Museum and Library Services. Distressed—and concerned that perhaps you are unaware of how the funding these three agencies provide helps people in our communities in tangible ways.
Our organizations provide arts education for kids that—repeated studies have shown—helps them do better in school. And these are not just for public or private school groups, but for homeschool families, too. We run programs that can help professionals from police officers to doctors improve their skills in investigating detail. We provide classes that help adults and children with disabilities, or those struggling with diseases like Alzheimer’s, as well as their families. And between us we employ thousands of people on both a full- and a part-time basis, playing an important role in our local economies and our communities.
Funding from the NEA, NEH, and IMLS are all crucial to this work. Not because these Federal funds pay for all these programs—they don’t even come close. But for museums like ours, these funds validate our work and help us attract private support. In fact, each dollar awarded by the NEA attracts nine dollars from other sources, and the ratio is similar for the other organizations. This dynamic is also true for the theaters, and libraries, and myriad other organizations that rely on NEA, NEH, and IMLS support to service their communities as best they can. In effect, these agencies act like incubators working in the private sector, seeking out and analyzing opportunities and making targeted investments.
Whether one is a Republican or a Democrat, we can all agree that there are many things in government that need fixing. But these three Federal agencies aren’t broken. They run effectively and efficiently, accomplishing an incredible amount in a wide range of states and communities. And they do it with 0.012% of the Federal budget.
I hope you will reconsider your decision, and keep in mind how many jobs and families depend on it.
President, Association of Art Museum Directors
Director, Oakland Museum of California