For the fourth consecutive year, the Trump administration wants to stop “wasteful and unnecessary funding” in its annual budget proposal by targeting the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), among other programs.
Released on Monday, February 10, Trump’s $4.8 trillion “Budget for America’s Future” proposes to increase defense spending in 2021 while slashing funding to culture and the arts, social welfare, and student aid.
The NEA and NEH are included in a section titled “wasteful and unnecessary funding.” According to the proposal, these agencies “are not considered core Federal responsibilities, and make up only a small fraction of the billions spent each year by arts and humanities nonprofit organizations.”
The budget defines “core federal government functions” as investments in national security, cybersecurity, violent crime and targeted violence reduction, immigration, drug enforcement, and the opioid epidemic. It also includes plans to eliminate the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The White House has been threatening to cut funding to these agencies since Trump’s election in 2016, but its proposals have so far remained as mere threats. The authority to pass budgets is in the hands of Congress, which has been implementing an opposed policy. Last year, the House of Representatives approved a $1.4 trillion spending package that included a $7.25-million increase for the NEA, its largest budget increase since 2013.
In a statement, Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, called the White House’s budget request “misdirected.”
Lynch said that in a testimony for the House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee last week, he urged lawmakers to increase NEA funding to $170 million next year with an additional $7.75 million over 2020’s budget. “For context, these cultural agencies are still inching their way back up to levels once enjoyed two and a half decades ago,” he said in his 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, particularly benefiting communities that have fewer opportunities to experience the arts,” Lynch added.
Lynch expressed his faith in Congress, stating that lawmakers provided increased funding to the NEA 2020 with an additional $7.25. “I expect to see similar action by Congress this year, and hopefully a $7.75 million increase,” he said.
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NEA and NEH funding is such a tiny fraction of the US budget, it hardly makes a difference (to government spending) to cut it or decrease it. I think the arts and humanities are necessary and worthwhile. But I and many others have to question some of the projects NEA and NEH fund. So much of what is called art these days is not art, it’s protest or confrontation or mere self-indulgence, with little or no aesthetic value. Being outrageous, or innovative, or transgressive is not enough—and it’s not necessary. And art critics and funders of art don’t want to admit that. To use public funds to endow art, we need to agree on a definition of art that takes into account aesthetics and enrichment of the lives of the audience.
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