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Trump Becomes First President to Propose Defunding the NEA and the NEH

President Donald Trump has proposed eliminating the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities in his first federal budget plan, which was released the morning of Thursday, March 16, Sopan Deb of the New York Times reports. Trump is the first president to try to defund the federal agencies, which have combined annual budgets of roughly $300 million—a small percentage of the United States’ $1.1 trillion annual discretionary spending.

Other agencies that may be axed include the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports PBS and National Public Radio, and the Legal Services Corporation, the largest funder of civil aid for low-income Americans.

The plan also calls for severe budget cuts for the Environmental Protection Agency, agriculture, education, health and human services, state, and other development programs in order to enable the government to increase military and homeland security spending by at least $55 billion.

Jane Chu, the eleventh chair of the National Endowment of the Arts, called a staff meeting on Wednesday, March 15, to forewarn employees of the announcement. According to an anonymous source, she said that they are to continue working but need to be prepared for the incoming flood of phone calls from worried arts and cultural organizations and individuals who receive grants from the endowments.

William D. Adams, chairman of the humanities endowment, said in a statement, “We are greatly saddened to learn of this proposal for elimination, as NEH has made significant contributions to the public good.”

The arts community has been in an uproar ever since reports emerged that Trump was considering slashing the federal agencies. A number of cultural leaders and organizations have issued statements in support of the NEA and the NEH since the presidential inauguration, including the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Thomas P. Campbell; the directors of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, Institute of Contemporary Art, and Harvard Art Museums; and organizations such as Americans for the Arts and PEN America. Brian Ferriso, the president of the Association of Art Museum Directors, said, “I’m sort of dumbstruck. I’m hopeful that Congress will take the time to say, ‘Hey, wait a second. We need these cultural elements in our society.’”

In an effort spearheaded by Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, twenty-four bipartisan United States senators came together to write a letter to the president in February, urging him to continue funding the agencies. The letter called endeavors in the arts and humanities “drivers of innovation and economic prosperity.”

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