U.S. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand was in Plattsburgh on Friday talking about the need to protect arts organizations from potential cuts in the federal budget.
President Trump wants to zero out all federal funding for the arts, humanities, and public media. Gillibrand said more people need to speak out against Trump’s budget proposals.
Speaking at the Strand Center for the Arts in a room full of anxious leaders from local arts organizations and nonprofits, Gillibrand said President Trump’s budget proposals would be devastating.
“He plans to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting – I don’t know what he has against Big Bird – and the Institute of Museum and Library Sciences,” she said. “These are fundamental funding programs for arts across the nation.”
There's no time to wait-and-see. American artists, researchers and media people are already planning what comes next should President Donald Trump's plan to cut all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) pass through Congress.
The president laid out the plan in his proposed budget earlier this month. The funds the trio of organizations gets from Washington make up a miniscule portion of the overall federal budget — in the 2016 fiscal year total federal spending was an estimated $3.9 trillion US. The NEA got $147.9 million US and the NEH requested the same amount (that's about 0.004 per cent each) while the CPB received $445 million US (around 0.01 per cent).
That's not a lot of money next to the trillions spent overall, but it's vital for hundreds of recipients, scattered in galleries, universities, museums, radio booths and television studios throughout the United States.
A sense of uncertainty is growing in the local art community.
President Donald Trump’s latest budget proposal threatens to gut funding from a number of federal agencies, including the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. And local leaders contend artistic and cultural projects could now be in jeopardy.
“We will not survive without the arts,” said Phil Murphy, the director of the Old Town Playhouse. “One of the greatest misunderstandings is that art is disposable. It helps to define our culture. … I look at the arts as part of our national soul.”
The total budget for both endowments rests at about $300 million, and the local slice of the pie is much smaller. The Old Town Playhouse, for example, collected about $2,600 in federal funding this year; larger operations like the Dennos Museum Center accepted about $100,000 over the last 15 years.
But Murphy asserts the potential impact could be far-reaching — especially in rural communities where artistic programs can lean more heavily on federal cash. More than 20,000 people attend shows at the Playhouse and those endowments help to subsidize their operations, he said.
“It’s effectively hitting millions and millions of taxpayers,” Murphy added.
The Humanities are often called “the thinking arts.” They include history, literature, philosophy, comparative religion, archaeology, architectural history, anthropology, ethics, folklore and folklife, jurisprudence, languages, linguistics, political science, and the history, criticism and theory of art.
This may sound pretty effete, until you realize that the Port Penn Marshland Festival; public programs studying Delaware’s role in the Underground Railroad; oral history interviews with Vietnam vets; and library and community programs throughout the state from Laurel to Lewes, Harrington to Hockessin, Felton, Delaware City, Stanton, Claymont, and beyond, have all benefited from Humanities funding.
By seeking our reflection in the world’s great writers, artists and philosophers, we can begin to comprehend the human condition. Writing to his nephew on the 100th anniversary of Emancipation, in the essay “My Dungeon Shook,” James Baldwin warned against people who are blind to the reality of others. “It is the innocence which constitutes the crime,” he said. Innocence stemming from a lack of self-knowledge is not blameless; on the contrary, Baldwin says, it can be dangerous. But he also told his nephew, “If you know whence you came, there is no limit to where you can go.” There is strength in an awareness of one’s own place in history.
As Americans, we are fortunate to have support for the humanities at the state and federal level. The National Endowment for the Humanities funds scholars, documentary filmmakers, universities, libraries, museums and archeological sites, all with 0.003 percent of the federal budget — the equivalent of someone who makes $50,000 a year spending $10. The endowment also helps to support state-affiliated humanities councils, which in 2016 put on more than 55,000 programs and conferences across the country. S.C. Humanities supports writers, speakers, libraries, filmmakers, festivals, conferences, workshops, traveling exhibits, student research fellows and an annual Humanities Festival. How much poorer we would be and how much less we would know of ourselves without the contributions of S.C. Humanities.