Although the newly elected President Trump has been in office for less than two months, the changes he is planning to make (and already made) are substantial. According to an article published on The Hill, Trump is supposedly gearing up to completely eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). The report also states that he plans to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Trump and his team are seeking to make dramatic cuts to the budget, which includes eliminating government programs that, in their minds, aren’t necessary to the well-being of the country. A huge part of Trump’s campaign was centered on cutting out wasteful spending within the government, and his reported plan to do away with these programs will be a step towards his goal.
The NEA and NEH were both founded in 1965. According to NEA’s website, “…the NEA is the independent federal agency whose funding and support give Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities.” The NEH gives grants to educational institutions that promote the humanities, such as colleges, museums, and libraries. The CPB provides major funding for public television and radio; most notably, to PBS and NPR.
A piece on The Washington Post outlines exactly how much the government would be saving by eliminating the NEA and the NEH and privatizing the CPB. In 2016, the government gave CPB $445 million, while NEH and NEA both received $148 million. By eliminating or privatizing those three programs, the government would only save a total of $741 million. Philip Bump, the writer of the article, explains that the government spent about $3.9 trillion during the 2016 fiscal year. For those who are not mathematically inclined (myself included), Bump gives this example: the money spent on these three programs is the equivalent of spending $10 out of a $50,000 salary. According to Snopes, which outlines the situation, the proposed wall to be built on the United States’ border with Mexico could cost up to $38 billion.
Trump isn’t the first president to try to eliminate art or humanities programs. In 1981, President Reagan attempted to do away with the NEA, but was persuaded by several other conservatives to abandon his mission. President Nixon attempted to cut funds to CPB in half, but his plan failed as well. There have been debates over the content created by artists who have benefited from the NEA and NEH, but Trump seems to be concerned about the monetary implications of the programs.
An article written in the Philadelphia Business Journal entitled “If Trump Cuts National Endowment for the Arts, What Would That Mean for Philadelphia?” claims that the city of Philadelphia received about $700,000 from the NEA in 2016, with $45,000 going to a performance venue that, with help from Drexel University, allowed teenage victims of violence to work alongside artists to create a stage performance.
Dr. Brian C. Mitchell wrote an article on The Huffington Post that describes his experience with a program funded by the NEH in South Dakota. The event he was involved in was a week-long study of Thomas Jefferson’s work. Dr. Mitchell writes, “The NEH and its local affiliate provided the books, organized discussion sessions… Who were the people that jammed into the Chautauqua event each night? They were local residents and farmers who had driven their families 60 miles in some cases to learn more about Thomas Jefferson. It was a transformative moment for them – and for me – defining how I would think, write, and talk about the humanities over the next 30 years.”
While addressing Trump’s plan, CPB said, “The federal investment in public media is vital seed money – especially for stations located in rural America, and those serving underserved populations where the appropriation counts for 40-50% of their budget. The loss of this seed money would have a devastating effect. These stations would have to raise approximately 200 percent more in private donations to replace the federal investment.” In addition to having a profound effect on small local stations, PBS and NPR would feel the effects of privatization, but to a lesser extent.
Art, imagination, and knowledge play an enormous role in the progress of society and in humanity itself. Without the spark of creativity that the arts help cultivate, scientific discoveries and advancements would be impossible. Leonardo da Vinci once said, “Principles for the Development of a Complete Mind: Study the science of art. Study the art of science. Develop your senses – especially learn how to see. Realize that everything connects to everything else.” When we begin to believe that studying the arts isn’t as important as other ventures, our progress as a society is threatened.
On a personal note, I attended a liberal arts college and have a degree in Theatre, and one of my minors in Literature. Studying the arts and humanities has helped me become a better, more inspired, more giving person. I’ve seen firsthand the positive impact that exposure to the arts can have on a life.
Where does this leave the people who find their place in the art studio, in the theater, in the library? If the arts are not esteemed, what happens to their creativity and their chance to impact others? It isn’t merely the defunding of the NEA and the NEH that’s at stake; it’s the overall deemphasizing and downplaying of the role of art and humanities in our society. The pursuit of knowledge and art connects people from different backgrounds and generations. It fosters and feeds imagination, which allows all kinds of progress to flourish. It teaches empathy and the value of listening to others. It allows us to step into someone else’s shoes and see what life looks like from their perspective. The devaluing of art, literature, philosophy, and language is detrimental to a society’s culture.
By all means, wasteful government spending should be stopped, but eliminating programs that promote the arts and humanities is not the right course of action to take.