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Never-Ending Battle: Mobilizing (once again) to Save the National Endowments for the Arts & Humanities

With President Trump‘s transition team’s having reportedly recommended elimination of federal funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities (as well as for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting), a petition opposing possible NEA and NEH cuts has appeared on the White House’s website, on the We the People webpage for citizens’ petitions. At this writing, there are a paltry 464 signatories on that petition (one of which is mine), dwarfed by the 279,518 signatories (at this writing) on the petition for Trump to release his tax returns. (Good luck with that.)

Trump taking oath of office at Presidential Inauguration
Screenshot from NBC coverage by Lee Rosenbaum

Although there have been some concerns that signatures on the NEA/NEH petition were not being properly recorded on the White House website, that was not my experience. The catch is that you have to follow the instructions: After you sign, open the message sent to your email and click on the link to confirm. If you don’t, you won’t be counted.

Every few years, arts advocates find themselves in the position of having to defend the continuation of federal funding for the arts and humanities. So we dust off the stale statistical arguments to mollify the bean counters, even though we know that the true value of culture to our nation has little to do with these numbers:

Screenshots from a video posted on NEA’s website

Unfortunately, whenever there’s a call to prune the budget, the NEA and NEH are low-hanging fruit. They’re worth more for their symbolic value—an expendable expense when politicians want to appear fiscally frugal—than they worth are for their negligible impact on the government’s gargantuan outlays. With the Republicans controlling both houses of Congress, the struggle to maintain arts funding may prove to be more difficult than in past years.

So how are arts advocates working to address this challenge?

The Association of Art Museum Directors promptly issued a statement urging continued federal funding, noting that “NEA and the NEH provide support for programs in every congressional district in our country—serving people young and old, and those from all walks of life and with different perspectives. It is the mark of a great democracy to support the arts, which are an expression of what makes us human.”

We can only hope that AAMD’s midwinter meeting, which convened today in Miami, will energize its member museums to tackle this head-on, possibly during tomorrow’s session on “Challenges of Leading in Uncertain Times.” Here’s how the agenda describes that conclave:

Several AAMD members will lay out a series of questions, challenges, issues we are all grappling with during these divisive and uncertain times.

The American Alliance of Museums has posted on its website an action plan for “every museum professional, every trustee, and every volunteer to speak with one voice to help preserve these vital agencies.” Americans for the Arts, the advocacy group, issued a letter on Thursday by its CEO, Robert Lynch, responding to reports of the possible elimination of arts funding. He stated that “arts advocates across the country will be prepared to share the broad value of the arts in the upcoming days and weeks.”

In a letter posted today on its website, the College Art Association has expressed its “complete and total opposition” to defunding the NEA and NEH, regarding it as “a deliberate, ominous effort to silence artistic and academic voices, representing a potentially chilling next step in an apparent effort to stifle and eradicate oppositional voices and cultural output from civic life.” I think that’s over-interpreting a misguided economy measure.

In the meantime, here’s a bit of friendly persuasion by celebrated arts luminaries and lesser-known NEA beneficiaries, in a video (the source of the above screenshots) that’s posted on the NEA’s website:

an ArtsJournal blog