Thursday, January 19, 2017

Trump to Eliminate NEA?

Good morning.
"And the beat goes on........................"

Several reports today that the Trump Administration is considering elimination of funding to the NEA and the NEH.  This is line with the recommendations of budget cuts by the Koch Brothers funded Heritage Foundation, which, the reports indicate, is a blueprint for Trump's first budget.

Now this is hardly yet a done deal.  Budgets take time to craft and changes are frequent.  Moreover, virtually every Presidential budget is merely a starting point for consideration by Congress.  And Trump (who wanted Sly Stallone to Chair the agency) may not go for it.  But this is a threatening possibility - the sum of all fears for the nonprofit Arts sector.

There is no question that there are forces within Trump's team and within Congress that would like to see funding pulled from the Endowments.  The ostensible public reason is to further deficit reduction (though the pittance amount of funding for the Endowments will hardly have any effect at all in reducing the deficit), but the Endowments have long been a symbolic target for a sector of the conservative right.  Whether or not elimination of all funding will end up in a Trump budget isn't yet clear.  We will simply have to wait.

A herculean effort to flood the new Administration with public outcry is probably a required step to try to protect the agencies.  And it probably should start immediately.

And if elimination is in his budget, then the arts can try to muster a massive public outcry with tens of thousands of letters, phone calls, emails, petitions, editorial support and more to try to support the bi-partisan Arts Caucus in Congress that has been supportive of the arts (at least marginally so).  Will that kind of rallying of support be enough to protect at least some part of the Endowments budgets?  Who knows.

The arts, of course, have little political clout or power to leverage a victory, but we are not without support - if we can muster a big enough response.  We will have to forcefully make the arguments as to the value of the arts - economically, to jobs, to community development and otherwise - with data, stories and local impact reminders.  And we have to hold Congress' feet to the fire if they move to eliminate the agency.

Elimination of the Endowment would mean the agency's grants would disappear, as would their first rate research efforts, their convening apparatus, and the imprimatur of the federal agency's stamp of approval, which helps to leverage local support.  Elimination might also embolden state efforts to eviscerate local funding as there are many who want all funding, at every level, to the arts gone.

And elimination of the 40% share of the NEA's budget that is allocated directly to the states and the regional arts organizations, may put any number of smaller, more rural state agencies (the GOP states) at risk of, if not outright closure, then severely curtailing programming, as many depend heavily on that federal money to keep their doors open.

It also sends a global message that America doesn't value arts or culture.

But all of that may not matter to those that want us gone.

We have no idea yet if other federal monies in other agency's budgets that support arts programs might also be at risk.

And so now it begins..............

I hope Americans for the Arts, the other national service providers, the state and city agencies and all the arts discipline organizations can mobilize massive efforts to lobby Trump and Congress not to defund the Endowments - the total funding of which is a minuscule less than one half of one percent of the total federal budget.  I hope the nation's press rallies to our defense along with a public that has some appreciation for art and culture as part of the nation's fabric.  I hope other groups as far flung as the Federal Reserve and the PTA will join our cause.

But we're in a new world here, and we just really don't know what will happen, and whether or not we can stand up against the forces that may align against us.  One big problem for us is that there will likely be funding cuts and program eliminations across a wide specter of government spending and thus we will find ourselves in a long line of interests that will be fighting for their own survival.  Allies and friends will have their own battles to fight and we may find it difficult to justify our existence against many worthy programs, and to recruit partners in our defense.

So we wait.  Organize and wait.  Much the same as the entire nation will have to wait to see how all of this plays out.   We hope that Trump will not want it as part of his legacy that arts and culture become a victim and are wiped from the federal support map under his administration.

The only comfort I can offer is to remind all sides - theirs and ours - that American politics always has been, and remains, a pendulum.  And as the pendulum makes dramatic swings in one direction, inevitably it swings back the other way. The more wide the arc, the quicker and more forcefully it swings the other way.

And this much is pretty clear:  the boomers are dying out, and that exodus will accelerate.  All the older angry white voters that caused the pendulum to swing so violently, will see their numbers shrink over time.  And the Millennials numbers will then proportionately get larger.  Moreover, the voting blocs of people of color will also grow as the white population declines.  And finally, the movement of people from rural areas to urban areas will continue and even grow.  And in the last election, the Millennials, people of color and those in the cities (even in red states) all went heavily democratic - not Republican.

Now this demographic shift will take some time, there will be impediments thrown up to thwart the voting, as Millennials age they are likely to shift some of their political beliefs, and there will still likely be anger out there (especially since Trump, like all presidents, will not be able to deliver on all his promises, thus disappointing many of his backers) but it is inevitable that the bloc that elected Trump will eventually no longer hold sway.  The pendulum swings this way, then the other way.

That will be of little consolation to those who will suffer under new policies and priorities - and Trump is only half the equation, as the various agendas on the Republican side of Congress fight among themselves to gain victory, but it must be remembered that time is likely on our side.  There may be considerable damage wrought before the pendulum begins to move the other way.  Those horrified by the Trump presidency and the Republican Congress will inevitably lose many of the coming battles.  Then again, the pendulum may move much faster than people think.  The distrust and negative feelings towards the new administration are historically high.  And Trump may still surprise.

What to do?  Every single person and every single arts organization must actively rally to the defense of the NEA funding.  No one can afford to sit on the sidelines.  No excuse is acceptable.

We're all in for a rough ride on myriad fronts.  Remember we are the majority, not the minority.  You will need to steel yourself with courage for the fight of your lifetime.  And please, don't sit this one out.

And remember too that no matter what happens, actors will act, dancers will dance, painters will paint and sculptors will sculpt, film makers will make films, musicians will play, songs, and plays, and scripts and books and poems will be written, performances and concerts given, operas staged, and millions of people will see, hear and read it all, and the arts will forever be omnipresent.  Creativity is part of the human makeup.  Nothing will stop that.

As Obama said: "It's going to be ok."  Believe in what you do and who you are.  And fight for that.

Don't Quit.


  1. Barry,
    Interestingly there is one word in your plea to protest the elimination of the NEA that never appears. That word is -artist. You talk about art agencies and organizations and how much they will be hurt by the elimination of the NEA but you never even mention the very people arts organizations are suppose to support-the artists.
    Don't get me wrong I think the elimination of the NEA will be a terrible symbolic gesture.
    But as a visual artists I haven't benefited from the NEA since I received a grant way back in the late 80's.
    Here in my state of Michigan I've seen the NEA/ArtWork logo appear on countless are agencies . In 2014 the Pew Data Project said that over $500 million public, private, and philanthropic dollars flowed through all of Michigan's art agencies and institutions and organizations. Of that money $50 million went to a category called programing. Of that money we have no idea how much actually ended up in the pockets of the people who produce the content for these organizations. I suspect a fraction.
    So and my fellow painters, sculptors, crafts people, photographers, media artists, won't be grieving the lose of the NEA because they abandoned us years ago.

    1. Excellent point and so noted Richard. Like many others I support the return by the NEA of a program for direct funding to individual artists, but, as you are aware, that unfortunately, continues to seem like a political hot potato.
      I would note that 40% of the NEA budget goes directly - on a per capita basis - to the states, and while I do not know what each and every state does with their allocation, I know that many use at least some of that funding in direct and indirect support to artists. I would also give some credence to the claim that funding arts organizations indirectly results in a great deal of funding which benefit artists.

      But I understand your position, and hope that someday the NEA once again has substantial programs that directly support artists. And I would hope that the total funding of the NEA would rise to a meaningful level so that such programs would have significane.

    2. I'm not sure your explanation is correct. As an artist I can't get and NEA grant unless I go through a approved arts organization. So there is no direct NEA funding for artist. writers for some odd reason can apply directly for a grant.
      Again if we use the Pew's data the vast majority of monies 9/10th's goes to support arts organizations with a fraction going to support artists.

    3. Sorry Richard. Perhaps I was unclear in my response.
      1) I understand there is no direct award of grants by the NEA to artists. I was simply pointing out that 40% of the NEA money goes directly to state and regional arts agencies. The NEA has no say so in how that money is spent. Many of those state agencies do make direct grants to artists. I understand too that those grants are still a fraction of the monies.
      2) I fully support a return by the NEA (and all state agencies that do not do so) making direct grants to artists, and in larger percentages of their budgets than is currently the case.
      3) While most funding goes to organizations, many of those organizations spend money on programs, projects, performances and the like that do directly and indirectly benefit artists with work, jobs and funding - as well as a platform for the public to access their art. And that access is one of the chief obligations of public agencies. I realize that this area involves primarily performing artists and not visual artists, and hope that might be addressed in the future.
      I believe we are largely on the same page.