Arts advocates at a rally in Corning, New York, on Tuesday protesting cuts in federal funding. Photo: Jeff Murray

National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities Prepare to Shut Down

After President Trump released his official 2018 federal budget on Tuesday, May 23, which included sweeping cuts to domestic programs, the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities are preparing to close.

Trump became the first president to propose defunding the federal agencies when he released his preliminary budget in March, which outraged arts advocates across the nation and sparked a number of actions, including marches, protests, and letters to Congress.

The art world was temporarily mollified earlier this month when Congress approved a bipartisan bill that granted funding for the NEA and NEH for the rest of the 2017 fiscal year and even boosted their budgets by nearly $2 million.

However, the new $4.1 trillion budget, called “A New Foundation for American Greatness,” increases military spending by 10 percent, allotting spending more than $2.6 billion for border security—$1.6 million of which is for the initial construction costs of his promised US-Mexico border wall—and orders the elimination of the NEA, the NEH, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

While Trump’s budget is likely to face opposition in Congress, the NEA and NEH have submitted appropriations requests for 2018. The published reports outline the resources needed to support a reduced staffing level as well as administrative costs to effectively shut down operations.

The combined cost to shut down the agencies, $71 million, is nearly 25 percent of their total budget of nearly $300 million. The NEA has requested $29 million for this process. The bulk of the monies would support its personnel. The agency currently employs 155 people, but will aim to cut this number in half by March 31, 2018. Among the other expenses included in its thirty-six-page report are real estate, equipment, contracts, and records management.

The NEH is asking the Trump administration for $42.3 million to close up shop. In a fifteen-page report, the agency requests nearly $25 million for personnel as well as $12.4 million to fulfill grant commitments. The NEH’s acting chair Margaret Plympton will oversee the dismantling of the agency since chairman William Adams resigned Monday.

Other casualties of the budget include Medicaid, the federal health program for low income Americans, which Trump wants to slash by more than more than $800 billion. Meanwhile, Representative Mark Meadows, a Republican of North Carolina and the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, is calling the plan “the most conservative budget that we’ve had under Republican or Democrat administrations in decades.”

Supporters of the government’s endangered programs are only beginning the fight for funding that is expected to last until the next fiscal year begins on October 1. Among the arts advocates rising up in support of culture are Laura Lott, the president of the American Alliance of Museums, who said, “the details of this budget proposal are as appalling as the outline released in March” and the Association of Art Museum Directors, which is urging elected representatives “to continue their stand for the NEA, NEH, and IMLS, which provide vital services for people across the nation.”