If you were asked to invest in a project where the outcome included effective education, empowerment, a less-divided community, and citizens who are better equipped for employment with a renewed capacity for respect, you'd likely reach for your checkbook. That's exactly what the National Endowment for the Humanities, with bipartisan support from Congress, has done for decades.
But now, with recent reports that the Trump administration wants to eliminate the NEH, along with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, those benefits could disappear. And that would be a tragic loss.
An independent federal agency established by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965, NEH spends the money well. It provides grant funding to foster humanities education and programming at universities, colleges, libraries, and museums. And it supports 56 state and territory humanities councils, including one in Pennsylvania. Annual spending by the NEH amounts to .003 percent of the federal budget, yet that money has an enormous impact, largely through the work of the humanities councils.
The Trump administration’s recently released proposed federal spending plan has crippling implications for America’s arts and humanities communities. Part of the budget proposal would eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
If these national entities seem unfamiliar to you, consider a small sample of the projects they’ve funded over the years. These projects include National Public Radio, “A Prairie Home Companion,” PBS, The Sundance Institute and Film Festival; literature, arts, dance, and theater education programs in public schools, and research funding for museums, libraries and colleges.
In 1965, the U.S. Congress established the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Besides funding arts and humanities projects, the agencies support art education, international cooperative initiatives and research. However, both agencies have regularly faced criticism and threats of demise.
Trump’s current cost-cutting budget proposal would eliminate both agencies, saving $300 million from their combined budgets, which is .024 percent of federal discretionary spending, or approximately 92 cents per citizen.
Comparatively, some of Trump’s lifestyle choices, including twice-monthly trips to Florida and his family’s stay in New York City, will cost $1.42 per citizen by year’s end.
The relative financial burden of supporting the NEA/NEH also pales by international comparisons. Around the world, public investment in the arts far surpasses that of the United States: Germany invests $20 per citizen, England invests $77 per citizen and Australia $269 per citizen.
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.”
The N.E.H. programs for veterans or service personnel include the Warrior Chorus, in which veterans perform classical texts and their own writing. The program has received $650,000 from the agency since 2014, including another $300,000 being announced this week.
One of its productions, “Our Trojan War,” was staged last week in Austin, Tex., in a run that is due at BAM Fisher in Brooklyn in April.
Marco Reininger, who served in Afghanistan, took part in an earlier production, of Sophocles’ play “Philoctetes.” “Seeing, through the play, how little had changed about the reality of armed conflict and the experience of the humans tasked with executing it pulled me in very deeply,” he said. “The warriors and citizens of ancient Greece had the same questions and carried the same trauma as soldiers do today.”
The fate of projects like the Warrior Chorus is likely to be determined in key congressional appropriations committees as they consider whether the two endowments should be funded, and at what level. In the past, lawmakers have cited the military and veterans’ programs when justifying budget increases for the endowments, which now each receive roughly $148 million.