Around four hundred people gathered at New York’s City Hall yesterday afternoon to protest President Trump’s plans to cut federal funding for the arts and culture, writes Claire Voon of Hyperallergic. The Rally to Save the Arts was organized by the city council’s Democratic leader, Jimmy Van Bramer. Among those in attendance were musician and artist David Byrne, New York’s Department of Cultural Affairs Commissioner Tom Finkelpearl, and a number of arts organizations, such as the protest group We Make America and the Actors’ Equity Association, which has been in existence for nearly one hundred years. “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. We want to have the same kind of resistance movement against Trump’s assault on the arts,” said Van Bramer.
Council members from Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens were in attendance to make mention of the positive effects the arts have on all manner of community, great and small. Byrne spoke about a study done by the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice that looked at how investing in arts initiatives in low- and moderate-income New York City communities lowers crime rates, decreases instances of child abuse, and improves children’s test scores, in addition to other benefits. “How can you argue with that? . . . You don’t have to increase the police force to lower the crime: Just put a library in there,” Byrne commented. Scott Stringer, the New York City comptroller, said the modest amount put aside by the federal government for the arts—just .02 percent of its total budget—“[goes] a long way” in New York (since 2000, the city has received about $233 million in NEA grants). “When you have an NEA grant and you’re a small arts organization, that gives you entrée into the entire donor community. The NEA is a stamp of approval,” Stringer said.
“All of this stuff trickles down into the neighborhoods,” said Ariel Estrada, the director of the Leviathan Lab, a nonprofit that supports Asian American artists in theater and film. “[The Trump Administration] doesn’t see how that federal funding affects communities, just regular folks. It’s just personally offensive to me because I’ve been out there in the trenches doing this work in New York for about twenty years.”