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Arts Advocates Across the US Mobilize Against Cuts to Cultural Funding

Arts institutions, cultural leaders, artists, educators, and Americans who enjoy the arts have been up in arms ever since initial reports of the Trump administration’s plan to eliminate the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities began to surface in January. After the President turned their fears into a reality in March, when he released the proposed federal budget plan for 2018, which defunded the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and the Institute of Library and Museum Services in addition to the endowments, thousands have been prompted to act.

On Monday, April 3, more than four hundred arts advocates gathered in front of City Hall in New York City to participate in the Rally to Save the Arts, organized by the city council’s Democratic leader, Jimmy Van Bramer. “Just as the President assaulted healthcare for millions of Americans, he’s now assaulting the arts, culture, humanities, and libraries, and seeking to deprive hundreds of millions of Americans the right to experience and express themselves through art and culture,” Bramer said. “We want to have the same kind of resistance movement against Trump’s assault on the arts.”

Councilmen from Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens; members of organizations such as the Actors’ Equity Association; and supporters of dance, theater, and the visual arts were in attendance. Wielding signs that read, “Save the NEA,” “New Yorkers for Dance,” “Save the Arts so the Arts Can Save You,” and “Even Cavemen Valued Art,” protesters spoke of the benefits of the arts, including the jobs that the industry provides. “Trump talks about ‘making America great again,’” Bramer said, “but you don’t make a country great by crushing its soul.”

The threat looming over the NEA and NEH spurred more than seven hundred people to descend on Washington, DC, during the week of March 19 to urge lawmakers to continue federal support for the arts. “It’s about enjoyment and inspiration and jobs, but it’s also about our humanity,” Representative Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) said. “This is about America and who we are as a nation.”

The large turnout in the capital was partially the result of a national advocacy event on March 20 and March 21 that was sponsored by Americans for the Arts. While many concerned about the fate of the arts are appealing to politicians at the federal level, advocates in Massachusetts have resorted to demanding more support for the arts from their state government.

On Tuesday, March 28, around six hundred people marched to the State House in Boston in a campaign to increase state funding for culture. The demonstrators called for an additional $2 million in financial support for arts programming, which would raise the budget for the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the entity charged with allocating the monies, to $16 million. “The president’s proposal is hitting a nerve with a lot of folks,” Matthew Wilson, executive director of the arts advocacy group MassCreative, said, “and turning passive arts supporters into arts activists.”

Another way to fight for the NEA and the NEH is to contact representatives in Congress. Since arts advocates may have a hard time reaching lawmakers by phone these days, due to the unusually high call volume since Trump’s inauguration, the Los Angeles–based design firm Use All Five recently launched a website that helps people reach congress via fax machine. While some may view this as an outdated method of communication, according to the New Yorker, one Republican senator received 7,267 faxes in a twenty-four-hour period earlier this year.

The battle for arts funding did not begin with Trump, it also came under attack during the Reagan administration and the culture wars in the 1990s. Since then, the NEA has changed the way it operates. It currently allocates grants to every congressional district, and in 2016, it recommended 2,400 grants in 16,000 communities.