After more than three decades of budget proposals from some conservative lawmakers to drastically slash or zero out federal funding for the arts, humanities, and public broadcasting, none of which have ever reached a sitting president’s desk, the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting is now officially a presidential priority. Along with his proposal to junk dozens of federal agencies and programs—including meals on wheels and energy subsidies for the poor—President Trump yesterday released a budget blueprint for FY 2018 that puts the NEA, NEH, and CPB on the chopping block.
Strikingly, though President Reagan reportedly had similar designs, Trump’s budget marks the first time a president has publicly placed these objectives into a budget document since President Lyndon B. Johnson first established the NEA and NEH in 1965. While budgets are in fact written by Congress, presidential budget blueprints are considered influential political documents. And while the NEA’s budget, for instance, has been dramatically reduced since its peak in the 1980s, the eliminating a federal agency through the appropriations process is a complicated and multi-step matter.
NEA chairwoman Jane Chu, who was appointed by President Obama in 2014, released this response: “We are disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every Congressional District in the nation. We understand that the President’s budget request is a first step in a very long budget process; as part of that process we are working with the Office of Management and Budget to prepare information they have requested. At this time, the NEA continues to operate as usual and will do so until a new budget is enacted by Congress.”
And in a statement this morning, Actors’ Equity Association president Kate Shindle addressed President Trump directly, citing his bestseller The Art of the Deal: “In that book you wrote extensively about leverage. Estimates reveal that each dollar in NEA seed money can be leveraged to result in $9 in public and private money to support the arts in America. The NEA is an exceptional example of a relatively small portion of the federal budget paying huge dividends for arts institutions and jobs.”
Americans for the Arts Action Fund put some concrete numbers on those dividends, calling the NEA “an economic powerhouse” that generates “more than $600 million annually in additional matching funds and helping to shape a $730 billion arts and culture industry that represents 4.2 percent of the nation’s GDP and supports 4.8 million jobs.”
The rationale for the cuts, of course, is to make savings to reduce the deficit, which now stands at $441 billion. Eliminating funding for both the NEA and NEH, though, would save only around $300 million, a tiny fraction of annual federal discretionary spending, which is $1.1 trillion.
Theatre Communications Group has issued an Advocacy Alert recommending the following steps to help convince Congress to #SaveTheNEA:
- Contact your Senators and Representative to urge them to support the NEA by signing on to this Congressional Arts Caucus letter. This letter will be open through March 24, and Congressional offices can contact Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) or Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ) to sign on.
- Call the White House to register your opposition to elimination of the NEA: 202-456-1111.
- Make curtain speeches to alert your audiences about the President’s proposal and/or insert flyers into your programs, urging your audience members to take action. They can go to the Performing Arts Alliance website to sign up to receive alerts and to contact their elected officials to urge support for the NEA.
- Write and submit op-eds and letters to the editor to your local newspapers in support of the NEA. Include examples of the impact of NEA grants on your theatre and your community. For background and examples of talking points, please see this year’s Arts Advocacy Day NEA Issue Brief.
Next Monday and Tuesday, Mar. 20 and 21, are Arts Advocacy Day in Washington, D.C. Arts advocates from all over the country will pour into the nation’s capital to dialogue with elected representatives and committee chairs. This is always a big day on the arts calendar, but yesterday’s news makes this effort more crucial and pressing than ever.
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