Americans for the Arts, the leading arts advocacy group in the nation, reports that the White House just released official details of its FY2018 “skinny budget,” proposed by President Trump in March. In this latest version, the president doubles down on his recommendation to eliminate the key federal agencies for the arts, humanities, museums, libraries, and public broadcasting, allocating only “expenses necessary to carry out their closure.” The budget proposal also eliminates important arts education and afterschool grant programs.
The proposed destruction of these national arts and humanities programs threatens not only the survival of our country’s cultural producers but also the cultural health of our entire society.
Defunding the arts is a tactic used by the Trump White House not only to destroy cultural identity in America but also to harm individuals directly through the Draconian GOP health care bill. LA author and journalist Scott Timberg, in his 2015 book, “Culture Crash, the Killing of the Creative Class” describes the “middle class-creatives,” the artists, musicians, writers, dancers and architects that tend to be free-lance entrepreneurs and do not normally find health care via employers but look to programs like Obamacare that applies to free-lance workers. “However imperfect its rollout and execution so far, it is among the rare good news the creative class has gotten in recent years.”
As Trump and the GOP move to eviscerate health care for many of our country’s most vulnerable populations, it is imperative that we also focus on arts programs for those same populations that are simultaneously being undermined by destroying funding for the arts.
For more than 50 years, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), in particular, has expanded access to the arts for all Americans, awarding grants in every Congressional district throughout all 50 states and U.S. Territories, as well as placing arts therapists in 12 military hospitals to help returning soldiers heal from traumatic brain injuries. The NEA is also an economic powerhouse, generating more than $600 million annually in additional matching funds and helping to shape a $730 billion arts and culture industry that represents 4.2% of the nation’s GDP and supports 4.8 million jobs. These facts don’t faze Trump or others in the GOP, some of whom have sought to undermine the arts in our country for years all the while ignoring these important statistics.
My work to support the arts is an extension of my passion for social justice and my commitment to help build a culture and community that provides nurture and support for all segments of our diverse society. A significant percentage of NEA grants, for example, go to those who have fewer opportunities to participate in the arts. 40% of NEA supported activities take place in high-poverty neighborhoods. 36% of NEA grants go to organizations that reach underserved populations such as people with disabilities, people in institutions and veterans. 33% of NEA grants serve low-income audiences.
As a philanthropist, I’ve focused on a collaborative-partnership model in grant giving, where the David Bohnett Foundation partners with our grantees and then brings in other funders and like-minded social service groups to help with the effort. Cuts to the National Endowment for the Arts and similar programs that solicit matching gifts from private donors undermines the strength of these collaborative funding models.
Trump boasts that these eliminations are “part of the Administration’s plan to move the Nation toward fiscal responsibility and to redefine the proper role of the Federal Government.” This is nonsense. The NEA’s budget is just 0.004 percent of the federal budget. That amounts to 47 cents per capita. In fact, the NEA budget has been losing its share of federal discretionary spending and failing to keep pace with inflation.
In the barrage of distractions coming out of the White House and from members of Congress, I’m frustrated that no one is talking about the importance of the arts in terms of how they define us as a people and as a society. For me, the arts reflect civilization. As President John F. Kennedy once said, “I am certain that after the dust of centuries has passed over our cities, we, too, will be remembered not for our victories or defeats in battle or in politics, but for our contribution to the human spirit.”
What I strive to do within my own community is to help everyone lift their head up and see how our individual struggles fit into the larger context of the broader human rights struggles. I think we’re better served if we’re champions for social justice for all. For me, the survival of the arts is a significant part of that mission.
Please contact your member of Congress to urge them to #SAVEtheNEA and these other cultural agencies. Find your representatives for the House and the Senate.
And be sure to look up and include your own story of how NEA grants have impacted the arts in your state and Congressional district. Americans for the Arts offers helpful suggestions on their web site.
Congress is now our only firewall to prevent the president’s extreme proposals from being enacted. The budget must still go through the House and Senate. Together, we must fight to save funding for these agencies and ensure universal health remains a reality.