The paint may dry up with the funding.
by Annie Muscat
Staff Art Avenger
Donald Trump is truly a man of his word. The fairly recently inaugurated president seems to be following through with his campaign promise to “Make America Great Again”…for straight white cisgender males, that is. If you’ve been following the news at all lately, you’re probably aware of the ~executive order extravaganza~, including the reinstatement of the anti-abortion global gag rule and the barring of citizens from seven Middle Eastern countries from entering the United States.
But of course the drastic changes don’t end there. As part of his plan to greatly decrease federal spending, Trump is issuing a budget proposal which will allegedly see the elimination of both the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) and the Nation Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
Established by Congress in 1965, the NEA strives to promote equal access to the arts, celebrate cultural diversity, and encourage leadership in art education. The independent agency envisions “a nation in which every American benefits from arts engagement, and every community recognizes and celebrates its aspirations and achievements through the arts”. A significant majority of the NEA’s project-based funds is allotted as awards and grants to individual artists and organizations across the country. Among the support it provides, the NEA annually funds a creative arts therapy program for military personnel and issues grants for town revitalization projects in order to improve infrastructure and local programs.
This is not the first time the NEA has been a conservative target under fire, stemming from the long-held belief that backing the arts is wasteful. During his presidency, Ronald Reagan considered defunding the organization altogether and more recently, Paul Ryan proposed its removal from government funding in his 2015 budget. So how much federal spending is allocated to the National Endowment for the Arts? In 2016, the total budget for the NEA was 147.9 million, which equates to .004 percent of the entire federal budget. .004 percent, people. In fact, funding the NEA has actually proven to be a good investment in the long-term. According to arts.gov, one dollar of NEA funding leverages up to nine dollars in private and other public funds.
Political figures, artists, and art enthusiasts everywhere are voicing their concern and disapproval of the proposed defunding. Connecticut senator Chris Murphy, an avid supporter of arts endowment, stated that “each year, the arts generate approximately $135 billion in economic activity, employing over 4 million Americans and generating over $86 billion in household income. But more than their positive economic impact, the arts strengthen and build communities…providing venues for people from disparate communities to come together and share a common experience”.
Some are taking an even more active approach in ensuring the NEA remains a government-subsidized organization. Artist Paul Weston, known for his works exploring media influence on culture, announced his intention to mail President Trump a piece of art daily for the subsequent four years of his presidency.
Weston has dubbed his artistic campaign, #148MillionDollars, reflecting the amount of funding the NEA will forfeit if Trump’s proposed budget is approved. His artworks have been sent each day to either the White House or Trump Towers and are understandably political in nature. One such rough sketch depicts an igloo adorned with a TV antenna, alluding to the impending danger of climate change and Trump’s dismissal of the issue. Other artists have decided to join him in his endeavor. To achieve his goal, Weston has budgeted $178.85 in stamps alone to send his artworks. He claims that art is the “ammunition” which can demonstrate an impact.
Although all artistic institutions across the country would be affected by the defunding of the NEA, larger institutions in big cities, (think New York City, San Francisco, Chicago, and Los Angeles), would likely be subsidized by private funders. Thus, prominent urban hubs would be more resilient. It’s cultural and artistic centers in rural areas without access to certain resources that would be most profoundly impacted. Arts education programs which provide children and adults alike with creative outlets and allow them to connect with others, would be stripped from schools. Grants issued to artists and organizations would be curbed, hindering the production of artworks, performances, and films.
Not only would the elimination of NEA funding be catastrophic for the artistic community, but it would also pose a significant symbolic loss. The NEA represents equal access to the arts for every person. It presents opportunities for people to challenge themselves intellectually through artistic creativity and contemplation. It provokes a dialogue and exposes individuals to other cultures and ways of life.
Essentially, Donald Trump should pay less attention to “alternative facts” and more attention to the actual people who greatly benefit, whether directly or indirectly, from the NEA and its services. In other words, the man needs to back the f*ck up.