NEH in the News
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.
Librarians are gearing up for a “marathon” effort to preserve federal funding for libraries, research, the arts and the humanities. The Trump administration earlier this month outlined its first budget plan, which if enacted would bring cuts to many federal programs on which libraries rely and eliminate several independent agencies.
The budget proposes to eliminate funding for the Institute of Museum and Library Services, which manages a host of grant programs. Crucially, the institute administers the Library Services and Technology Act, a program that libraries across the country depend on to fund their own services. The budget proposal is still just a blueprint, and in some sense it serves as a political statement from a new administration. Funding priorities will undoubtedly shift ahead of the more detailed draft, expected in May, and then again as the proposal is turned into appropriations bills this fall.
Although a president’s first budget outline rarely gets passed as proposed, Trump’s plan has been particularly controversial—with potential consequences for the University.
The current budget proposal is a “skinny budget,” explained Chris Simmons, associate vice president of federal relations. It currently includes large cuts to entities like the National Institutes of Health, National Endowment for the Humanities and Department of Education, while increasing defense spending by $54 billion.
“I think the budget is a disaster, but it’s just the first step in a long process, and we’re going to work hard to rectify these issues,” Simmons said.
For decades, conservatives questioned the need for the government to financially support the arts and humanities. Now they may have the opportunity to put an end to what they believe are the unnecessary, even destructive cultural agencies set up in 1965, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). In calling for their complete elimination, the president is taking a radical step that only Ronald Reagan, of all our previous presidents, first favored.
When Reagan considered ending the arts endowment in 1981, the effort was halted by his friend Charlton Heston, also a Hollywood Democrat turned conservative. “The transition team really did want to de-fund it,” Marc Hogan reported in Pitchfork. As Barnabas Henry, head of the president’s special task force on the arts and humanities later told The New York Times: “... we put a lot of people on the task force like Charlton Heston and Adolph Coors who were close to the President, and we all thought the task force did finally persuade him that it would be a terrible thing to stop the federal support.”
The AskHistorians section of Reddit has become a popular forum for history buffs to share their knowledge in a strictly moderated environment. The goal is to celebrate the past, and the group’s rules are clear: No discussion of current events (defined as less than 20 years old) and “no soapboxing” or expressing political views.
Decidedly current political events punctured that bubble last week, however, when the moderators broke their own guidelines to advocate against President Donald Trump’s proposal to strip all funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts (which now receive about $148 million per year each).
“NEH funding indirectly supports what you're reading right now,” the moderators argued in a post to the group, which has more than half a million subscribers. “We don't get political for a particular candidate, a particular party, or a particular point of view. We get political when good history matters. If you’re American, we’re asking you to call your Congressmen and Congresswomen to support funding for the NEA and NEH.”
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.