President Donald Trump’s 2018 budget proposal drains all funding from the National Endowment for the Arts — while increasing defense spending by $54 billion.
Since the NEA’s establishment in 1965, Trump is the only president to recommend its elimination.
“The Administration’s budget proposal stems from tired old ideas that show a lack of understanding of the important role the NEA plays in America today,” Robert Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts, said in a statement. “It could not be more misguided.”
In the 2017 fiscal year, the NEA issued $30 million in grants across the nation, including $452,500 to nonprofits and artists in North Carolina. The NEA’s budget counted for .004 percent of the 2016 federal budget.
Katie Ziglar, director of the Ackland Art Museum at UNC, said voters in every North Carolina congressional district benefit from the NEA.
“The arts actually create many jobs themselves and employ many people,” Ziglar said. “And arts foster critical thinking, communications, creativity, things that are essential for other people in other fields of work to have to be able to be successful in their own work.”
The NEA has granted more than $240,000 to the Ackland since 1998. Ziglar said the funding brings benefits beyond just the money.
“It’s like a good housekeeping symbol,” she said. “To get funding from the NEA — because of the competitive nature of these grants — means that your project is very worthy, and it helps draw other funding dollars.”
American Dance Festival is an organization in Durham that offers training and classes in addition to its modern dance festival each summer.
Jodee Nimerichter, executive director for ADF, said the NEA has been a longtime supporter through grants, including a $70,000 grant for the 2017 season — its 84th season in Durham.
“The main importance (of the NEA) is bringing art to community in the United States,” she said. “And the resounding impact the arts can bring to a person’s life.”
Without the support of the NEA, Nimerichter said ADF would potentially have to decrease the number of performances and commissions they do in a season.
“The chance of securing that amount of money from another source is pretty inconceivable,” she said. “The time and energy it would take to raise $70,000 would be incredibly difficult.”
Ziglar said while arts organizations in urban areas are sometimes able to secure outside donors, the NEA funds rural arts programs as well.
“ ... It helps make sure that there’s a little more equality with regard to access on the part of Americans everywhere,” she said.
Other sources for funding community art are uncertain.
“I don’t think there is anything quite like the NEA,” Ziglar said.
Emily Perry, a UNC senior and former intern for the NEA, said the Endowment is an important source of monetary support for rural arts organizations.
“In larger cities, private money tends to be easier to come by,” Perry said. “In rural areas, where there is more poverty, art tends to not fly without public money.”
The NEA is such a small portion of the federal budget that dissolving it is not likely to make a huge difference to the budget overall, she said.
“The integrity with which the NEA strives to apportion the very limited funds it has is very impressive,” Perry said.
The idea that arts are unnecessary is frustrating, Perry said.
“The arts are fundamental to social cohesion, expressing cultural narratives, overcoming differences,” Perry said. “I think that’s especially important in the day and age that we live in now, and we’re expressing as a nation that we’re not valuing those things.”
NEA chairperson Jane Chu said in a statement that the endowment has impacted thousands of communities.
“We understand that the President’s budget request is a first step in a very long budget process,” Chu said in the statement. “As part of that process, we are working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prepare information they have requested. At this time, the NEA continues to operate as usual and will do so until a new budget is enacted by Congress.”
The arts are almost constantly fighting to keep funding, and the community knows how to advocate, Ziglar said.
“So we’re concerned, of course,” she said. “But we’re also very hopeful that enough members of Congress and the Senate will understand what this means for our country as a whole and for their own states and districts and that we won’t necessarily end up where this budget proposal has us headed at the moment. And there’s still time.”