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11 Foundations Defend NEA and Denounce Trump Budget Proposal

Trump has twice suggested that the NEA be shut down, but for the first time, 11 foundations signed a joint statement of opposition.

Jane Chu, Chairman of the National Endowment fort the Arts, during the Knight Arts Challenge Miami 2014 Awards ceremony (photo by Patrick Farrell for the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, via Flickr)

A couple weeks ago, President Trump released his 2019 budget proposal, which, among other things, called for the dissolution of the National Endowment for the Arts. This week, the heads of 11 major national foundations — the Barr Foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies, Surdna Foundation, Rasmuson Foundation, Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, William Penn Foundation, Kresge Foundation, Bush Foundation, Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation, Ford Foundation, and McKnight Foundation — signed a joint statement in opposition to the proposed funding cuts.

The statement follows in the footsteps of other cultural institutions — such as the 11 arts organizations, including the Metropolitan Opera and The Juilliard School, that make up Lincoln Center — calling for continued NEA funding. Last year, 24 senators signed a similar letter.

As the joint foundation statement reads, the budget proposal “has the potential both to end valuable direct investments in our local communities and to dismantle tremendous partnerships with philanthropy that have strengthened our country.” It cites the NEA’s Exploring Our Town initiative, which funds collaborative projects and partnerships between local governments and their artistic communities, as an inspiration for the organizations coming together to fund ArtPlace America: “Some seven years ago, it was the then Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts who was able to bring us together as foundation leaders because his agency had a strong history of investing in each of our communities.”

In the 2018 fiscal year, as of February 12, the NEA had awarded 1,134 grants totaling $26.68 million to organizations and individuals in all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico. In 2016, the agency’s budget was approximately 0.004% of total federal spending.

The foundations note the importance of federal agencies in “serving all Americans in every community; no private philanthropy has the resources or the infrastructure to do that.” Their statement further argues the importance of artistic projects to the general the well-being of communities small and large: “If we lose federal agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts, we will not only lose significant direct investments in communities across all 50 states, we also lose the infrastructure that brings us together as one United States of America.”

Although this is the second year the Trump administration has suggested scrapping the NEA, it’s the first year these 11 foundations have come together in a joint statement in opposition.

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The complete statement appears below:

President Trump has delivered his budget request to Congress for fiscal year 2019, which proposes significant cuts to and, in some cases, the complete elimination of key federal agencies – like the National Endowment for the Arts. This has the potential both to end valuable direct investments in our local communities and to dismantle tremendous partnerships with philanthropy that have strengthened our country.

As just one example, in 2011, we were so inspired by work that the National Endowment for the Arts was doing through its “Our Town” investments that we came together to capitalize ArtPlace America, which exists to extend and build upon the federal government’s work enlisting the arts and culture sector as an ally in creating equitable, healthy, and sustainable communities of all sizes across the country.

This partnership – which has invested more than $100 million to date in communities that span the country from Kivalina, AK to Boston, MA, from Bastrop, TX to Minot, ND – has allowed us an even closer look at what is possible only when private philanthropies have strong and robust partners in the federal government.

Some seven years ago, it was the then Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts who was able to bring us together as foundation leaders because his agency had a strong history of investing in each of our communities. He was also able to bring together senior officials from agencies like the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the Environmental Protection Agency because he was their peer in federal government.

Together, we have worked more effectively than we could have done alone exactly because the public sector and philanthropy are not meant to do the same thing.

Federal agencies are charged with serving all Americans in every community; no private philanthropy has the resources or the infrastructure to do that. Foundation dollars are meant to be risk capital; public funding exists to bring tested interventions to scale. Government is responsive to voters through election cycles; foundations are charged with thinking across longer timelines.

We coalesced around a shared commitment to strengthen local communities. And, in this case, we came together because we all understood that artists are a resource present in every community. We also understood that those artists help root us in our communities, help connect us with our neighbors, and help to drive civic participation. Quite simply, we understood that it is not possible to have strong local communities without having a strong arts and culture sector.

If we lose federal agencies like the National Endowment for the Arts, we will not only lose significant direct investments in communities across all 50 states, we also lose the infrastructure that brings us together as one United States of America.

James E. Canales
President and Trustee
Barr Foundation
Boston, MA

Patricia E. Harris
Chief Executive Officer
Bloomberg Philanthropies
New York, NY

Phillip W. Henderson
President
Surdna Foundation
New York, NY

Diane Kaplan
President and CEO
Rasmuson Foundation
Anchorage, AK

Earl Lewis
President
The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation
New York, NY

Shawn D. McCaney
Executive Director
William Penn Foundation
Philadelphia, PA

Rip Rapson
President and CEO
The Kresge Foundation
Troy, MI

Jennifer Ford Reedy
President
The Bush Foundation
St. Paul, MN

Douglas Bitonti Stewart
Executive Director
Max M. and Marjorie S. Fisher Foundation
Southfield, MI

Darren Walker
President
Ford Foundation
New York, NY

Kate Wolford
President
The McKnight Foundation
Minneapolis, MN

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