Advocates Speak Up for Saving the National Endowment for the Arts

The Sioux Falls Arts Council in South Dakota used their NEA Our Town grant to revitalize the Whittier neighborhood of the city by bringing renowned muralist Dave Loewenstein (near center, wearing hat) to work with more than 250 community members to create The World Comes to Whittier, a 150-foot-long mural of the history and culture of the neighborhood.  Photo by Nicholas Ward, courtesy of Sioux Falls Arts Council.
The Sioux Falls Arts Council in South Dakota used their NEA Our Town grant to revitalize the Whittier neighborhood of the city by bringing renowned muralist Dave Loewenstein (near center, wearing hat) to work with more than 250 community members to create The World Comes to Whittier, a 150-foot-long mural of the history and culture of the neighborhood. Photo by Nicholas Ward, courtesy of Sioux Falls Arts Council.
  • Marine Sgt.  Jimmy Ochan and his son William enjoy their visit to the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, at the 2015 launch event for Blue Star Museums.  Photo by James Kegley.

    Marine Sgt. Jimmy Ochan and his son William enjoy their visit to the Phillips Collection in Washington, DC, at the 2015 launch event for Blue Star Museums. Photo by James Kegley.

With Thursday's official White House release of a $1.1 trillion federal budget blueprint featuring $54 billion in cuts and increased defense spending, America's culture programs are among the many casualties in the proposal set before Congress.

Proposed agency eliminations include the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities, Corporation for Public Broadcasting, Institute of Museum and Library Services, and more, with deep cuts to many agencies and programs.

Thomas P. Campbell, Director, and Daniel H. Weiss, President of The Metropolitan Museum of Art released this statement:

The President's budget released today proposing the elimination of funding for the NEA, NEH and IMLS is shortsighted and does a terrible disservice to the American people.  For more than 50 years, these programs have provided, at modest cost, essential support to arts organizations throughout the country—many times sustaining the arts in areas where people do not have access to major institutions like the Metropolitan Museum. We will join with arts organizations and artists nationwide and work with our supporters in Congress to see that these vital funds are maintained.

American for the Arts Action Fund has set up an easy form for citizens to tell their representatives in Congress to preserve the NEA. Use the campaign #SAVEtheNEA on social media.

Jane Chu, National Endowment for the Arts Chairman, released this statement:

Today we learned that the President’s FY 2018 budget blueprint proposes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. 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 (OMB) 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.

We expect this news to be an active topic of discussion among individuals and organizations that advocate for the arts. 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.

View the wide range of NEA funded programs here, and a timeline of 50 years of NEA-supported arts in America.

A record $17 billion was given to culture and arts organizations by individual and corporate donors in 2015. Those staggering billions represent 115 times the amount that the National Endowment of the Arts spent with its small $148 million budget, yet the funding focus of the NEA matters because it varies substantially from private donors.

The NEA supports major urban-area museums that largely attract big private donor dollars, and the agency also promotes rural programs, veterans programs, arts education, local arts councils, programs in every state, small organizations and, notably, it supports up-and-coming artists and organizations with small grants that can help them attract more donors or receive more recognition.  

The NEA got a tiny 0.004 percent of the federal budget last year; its grant spending is at a cost equivalence of one military jet, notes Michael Wilkderson in The Hill.

Wilkerson has jumped ahead to pen this obiturary for the NEA, in part:

"The National Endowment for the Arts, aged 52, has finally died.

...The NEA expired under the care of President Donald Trump and the Tea Party Congress... We are now the only country in the world without a federal arts presence."

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Grafton Tyler Brown, Cascade Cliffs, Columbia River, 1885.  Oil on canvas.  17 x 32 inches.  Courtesy of the Melvin Holmes Collection of African American Art.  Photo © John Wilson White Studio

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