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Reports of Trump Administration Plan to Eliminate the NEA and NEH Cause Alarm

While President Donald J. Trump has not officially made a statement regarding his plans for the National Endowment for the Arts or the National Endowment for the Humanities, a report published by The Hill states that the Trump administration has proposed eliminating both agencies in order to reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over the next ten years.

According to the proposal, funding for the departments of commerce, energy, transportation, justice, and state would also be subject to significant cuts and program eliminations and the corporation for public broadcasting would become privatized.

The legislation creating both the NEA and NEH was signed by former President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965. Today, the NEA is the largest national funder of nonprofits in the US. The agency awards more than twenty-two hundred grants and cooperative agreements exceeding $130 million for arts programming annually. The NEA’s 2015 annual report states that its $146 million budget, which represents only 0.012 percent of the federal budget, supported more than thirty thousand concerts, readings, and performances and more than five thousand exhibitions. NEA awards generated around $600 million in matching support.

The NEH aims to strengthen teaching and learning in schools and colleges, facilitate research and original scholarship, and preserve cultural institutions––such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, and public television and radio stations, as well as to individual scholars—by providing access to cultural and educational resources. In 2015, the agency awarded $121,540,617 to 822 humanities projects.

Brian Darling, a former aide to Kentucky senator Rand Paul and a former staffer at the Heritage Foundation, said that the Trump administration needs to reform and that “targeting waste like the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be a good first step.” Combined the agencies only make up 0.02 percent of the federal budget.

PEN America executive director Suzanne Nossel called the proposal “an outrageous abdication of the US government’s proud history of support for groundbreaking research and creative endeavors.” She added, “The announcement that this is even under consideration casts a sinister cloud over our vibrant national culture, stoking fears that the Trump administration aims to usher in a new Dark Ages in America . . . Even apart from the essential resources at stake, the signal sent by this gesture is a slap in the face to artists, writers, researchers, and scholars who are learning that the administration seems to consider their work worthless.”

The College Arts Association president Suzanne Preston Blier and executive director and CEO Hunter O’Hanian said, “Given that the respective budgets of the NEA and NEH represent only a tiny fraction of the entire federal budget, their planned elimination cannot logically be seen as a cost-saving measure. Rather, it appears to be a deliberate, ominous effort to silence artistic and academic voices, representing a potentially chilling next step in an apparent effort to stifle and eradicate oppositional voices and cultural output from civic life. By eliminating the support for these agencies, the government undermines the unifying potential of the arts, culture, and education that encourages and nurtures communication and positive discussion.”

Petitions protesting the proposal to slash the NEA and the NEH have been circulating online. A petition to help save the NEA has over 7,000 signatures. A petition that was launched on January 21 has forty-three signatures. However, there seems to be a problem with the site since hundreds of people have tweeted that they signed the digital document. Supporters of the agencies can let Congress know the importance of NEA and NEH by contacting their representatives to advocate for public arts funding.

Both the NEA and the NEH have declined to comment on the agenda of the Trump administration. “We’re not speculating on what policies the president (or the Congress) may or may not choose to pursue,” Victoria Hutter, assistant director of public affairs at the NEA, said.

Trump is not the first president to threaten to terminate the NEA and NEH. According to Livingston Biddle, a former NEA chairman, the Reagan administration also planned to do away with the agencies, but changed tact after its special task force on the arts and humanities realized “the needs involved and the benefits of past assistance.”