Trump takes aim at federal arts spending

Lost in the chaos caused by many of President Trump’s controversial executive orders in his first days in office is a proposal to dramatically reduce government spending by shrinking and eliminating certain federal agencies. The goal of which is to decrease federal spending by $10.5 trillion over 10 years.

Among the casualties are three arts-related agencies: the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). If the proposal were to be enacted, the CPB would be privatized and the latter two agencies would be completely scrapped.

The CPB provides funding to media entities like NPR and PBS, while the NEA and NEH hand out grants to creative types in need of funding for their projects. For example, this video of the late David Bowie discussing collaborations with Lou Reed was part of the NEA-funded American Masters Digital Archive.

Victoria Hutter, the NEA’s assistant director of public affairs, said the NEA is content following the terms of the government’s continuing resolution for fiscal year 2017.

“We look forward to participating in the usual budget process for the [fiscal year 2018] budget with the Office of Management and Budget and The White House,” she told MediaFile. “In the meantime, we continue to do our work: processing grants, advising applicants, convening review panels, etc.”

The NEH took a similar tone on the proposed budget plan.

“We’re not going to speculate on the policies or priorities of the new administration,” Theola DeBose, the NEH’s director of communications, told MediaFile.

In a statement provided to MediaFile, the CPB said that “federal investment in public media is vital seed money — especially for stations located in rural America, and those serving underserved populations.”

Like the NEA, the CPB “look[s] forward to working with the new administration and the new Congress in the continued pursuit of our public service missions of education, public safety and civic leadership, which the American people overwhelmingly support.”

How much taxpayer money goes into these organizations? According to an analysis by the Washington Post, the three agencies combined make up only .02 percent of federal spending. Of the $3.9 trillion spent by the government in fiscal year 2016, $445 million was given to the CPB and $148 million to the NEA. The NEH requested about $149 million in its 2017 appropriations request.

Do these government investments reap any economic benefits? A 2016 report by the Bureau of Economic Analysis found that “arts, entertainment, recreation, accommodation and food services” accounted for 4.2 percent of U.S. GDP and added 704 billion to the economy. The report also found that as of 2013, 4.74 million people were employed in the arts and culture industry.

Privatizing the CPB probably won’t be a death blow for the bigger public broadcasting companies as far as funding is concerned. As of 2013, NPR only received 5 percent of its funding from federal, state and local governments. PBS’ website didn’t offer a financial breakdown, but it does say that the public television giant receives funding from all three of the organizations under Trump’s microscope.

Isabel Lara, NPR’s director of media relations, told MediaFile that until Congress or the White House presents an official budget, “there is nothing to comment on.”

“Millions of Americans depend on their public radio station for fact-based, unbiased, public-service journalism to stay informed about their communities and the world,” Lara said. “Federal funding is essential to the work of these stations.”

According to data provided by the NEH the agency has provided more than 63,000 grants worth $5.3 billion since it was founded in 1965. In that time period the NEH has also funded 1,900 film and radio documentaries, 7,000 books (including 16 Pulitzer Prize winners) and 56,000 lectures, discussions, exhibitions and other humanities-related programs.

The NEH has given grants to 25 programs at George Washington University alone since 2005 according to NEH data provided to MediaFile, as detailed in the spreadsheet below:

Since its inception in 1965, the NEA has awarded over 145,000 grants totalling $5 billion, according to internal NEA data. That same data also claims that 33 percent of its grants go to low-income communities and 40 percent of “NEA-supported activities” occur in impoverished neighborhoods.

“The grants and programs that the NEA administers are powerful examples of how the arts are a vital and valuable part of our everyday lives,” the NEA’s Hutter said.

If the Trump team pulls the trigger on eliminating the NEA and NEH and privatizing the CPB, arts programs around the country, especially those in places with no means to afford art funding on their own, will be irreparably damaged or altogether cease to exist.

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