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Trump plans to cancel US arts endowment

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President Trump's FY 2018 budget blueprint proposes the elimination of the US National Endowment for the Arts, which funds community arts activity across America.
Trump plans to cancel US arts endowment

Image via NEA 

Arts organisations and creative programs across the United States are reeling after President Trump released his budget blueprint late last week, with no allowance for either the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) or National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Creative community activity across the United States is heavily dependent on the NEA,  an independent federal agency that awards about  $148 million annual to support performances, visual arts, literature and public broadcasting. 

The decision to destroy the Endowments is being widely interpreted as an ideological attack on the arts and humanities, hotbeds of liberalism and loud critics of Trump's policy agenda. The NEA supports activities in every Congressional district in the country, and 40% of NEA-supported activities occur in high poverty neighbourhoods 

Thomas P. Campbell, director and chief executive of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. in New York, wrote that the claim the NEA is being cancelled to save costs does not stand up, as the NEA represents only 0.004% of the federal budget. 

'Claiming that NEA cuts are purely for cost savings conceals a deeper, more partisan agenda. The last time the NEA was this under fire was during the 1990s, when funding was challenged for artists and institutions that refused to conform to a narrow definition of propriety. Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center, which showed Robert Mapplethorpe’s photographs, and its director were even charged with obscenity.' he wrote.

'I fear that this current call to abolish the NEA is the beginning of a new assault on artistic activity. Arts and cultural programming challenges, provokes and entertains; it enhances our lives. Eliminating the NEA would in essence eliminate investment by the American government in the curiosity and intelligence of its citizens.'

Widespread lobbying has already begun as supporters of the arts seek to reverse the decision. A petition, organised by PEN in January when the cut was first mooted, has been signed by more than a quarter of a million people, including such artists as Jasper Johns, Cindy Sherman, and Richard Serra. 

Julie Andrews and her daughter Emma Walton wrote an article for CNN citing the value of the arts in engaging young people and improving their academic and social outcomes. 

'We feel it has never been more critical to advocate for and support the arts -- not just in our schools, but in our communities and our lives. We therefore respectfully request that every member of our society -- individuals, educators, administrators, business leaders -- do everything possible to preserve and advance this most precious and essential resource, and demand that our elected representatives do the same,' the article noted'

Protesters - many of them prominent celebrities and artists -  took to Twitter under the hashtags #righttobeararts and #OperationPaintbrush. 

National Endowment for the Arts Chairman Jane Chu released a statement of concern.

'Today we learned that the President’s FY 2018 budget blueprint proposes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. We are disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every Congressional District in the nation.

'We understand that the President’s budget request is a first step in a very long budget process; as part of that process we are working with the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to prepare information they have requested. At this time, the NEA continues to operate as usual and will do so until a new budget is enacted by Congress.

'We expect this news to be an active topic of discussion among individuals and organisations that advocate for the arts. As a federal government agency, the NEA cannot engage in advocacy, either directly or indirectly. We will, however, continue our practice of educating about the NEA’s vital role in serving our nation’s communities.'

The New York Times reported that this is the first time a president has called for ending the endowments since they were created in 1965 ​by President Lyndon B. Johnson, who declared that any 'advanced civilization' must fully value the arts, the humanities, and cultural activity.

The NEA's most recent annual report for 2015 shows the Endowment supported 30,000 concerts, readings, and performances and more than 5,000 exhibitions of visual and media arts with annual live attendance of 33 million.

NEA grants are required to be matched on a 1:1 ration by non federal funds and in 2015 the Endowment generated more than $600 million in matching support; far surpassing the required non-federal match of at least one to one.

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