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“Wasteful & Unnecessary” Spending: Trump Dumps Arts & Humanities, IMLS, Public Broadcasting (again)

In what’s become a vexing yearly ritual since President Donald Trump took office, the White House, in its proposed federal budget for Fiscal 2021, has again called for the elimination of federal funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities (NEA and NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB).

In the proposed budget’s recommendations for “Stopping Wasteful and Unnecessary Spending” (beginning on p. 16, here), NEA and NEH are among the agencies relegated to the section on “Eliminating Programs With No Proper Federal Role.”

Here’s the White House’s elimination rationalization regarding the NEA (p. 106):

The Administration believes audiences and aficionados are better than the Government at deciding what art is good or important.

Okay, all you art aficionados: You decide what’s “good and important” and then pay up!

In the budget’s proposals for Major Savings and Reforms, NEA and NEH are allotted what the Administration deems to be “sufficient funding for orderly termination [emphasis added] of all operations in 2021—$30 million for NEA, compared to $162 million enacted last year; $33 million for NEH, compared to $162 million enacted last year. The IMLS would get $23 million to prepare for termination ($252 million enacted last year).

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (which helps to support PBS and NPR) is given two years to prepare for “an orderly transition away from Federal funding,” with a proposed $30 million in federal support in FY 2021, compared to the $465 million enacted last year.

According to the President’s budget:

Services such as PBS and NPR, which receive funding from CPB, could make up the shortfall by increasing revenues from corporate sponsors, foundations, and members. In addition, alternatives to PBS and NPR programming [emphasis added] have grown substantially since CPB was first established in 1967, greatly reducing the need for publicly funded programming options.

Unmentioned is what alternatives the White House has in mind. (Let me guess: Fox News?)

Perhaps obsessing over cultural support is frivolous, when there are more serious proposed budgetary cuts to agonize over. One example: the proposed elimination of the Legal Services Corporation, which provides funds for “legal assistance to low-income persons” in “mostly family law and housing matters, including evictions and foreclosures.”

Blowing its own horn, the NEH has posted on its website a Statement on Proposed FY 2021 Budget that cites the benefits of several of its major projects and alludes to “thousands of others” through which it has “inspired and preserved what is best in American culture.”

NEH Chairman Jon Parrish Peede

The closest the NEA comes to that (as far as I could see in perusing its website) is a fact sheet about its current budget, which makes no reference to the White House’s proposal for FY 2021.

NEA Chairman Mary Anne Carter

Neither agency is allowed to lobby for its appropriations, but (as NEH has done), they can and should disseminate persuasive information about the benefits and the importance of their programs, going forward into FY 2021.

Don’t be lulled into false complacency, art-lings, on the theory that Congress will again resist the President’s call to ax support for NEA, NEH, IMLS and CPB. Contact your Congressional representatives to advocate for continued (and, preferably, increased) arts-and-humanities support.

Although federal agencies can’t lobby, their constituencies can.

an ArtsJournal blog