The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Trump’s budget eliminates NEA, public TV and other cultural agencies. Again.

Big Bird and friends from “Sesame Street” (Photo by Zach Hyman)

In a repeat of last year, the Trump administration’s budget proposal for 2019 calls for eliminating four federal cultural agencies in a move that would save almost $1 billion from a $4.4 trillion spending plan.

Trump’s proposal calls for drastically reducing the funding to begin closing the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The four agencies would share $109 million in 2019, a overall cut of $917 million.

Congress rejected a nearly identical plan from the Trump administration last year.

Trump wants to cut the NEA and NEH. It’s the worst-case scenario for arts groups

Cultural leaders reacted with a mix of outrage and disappointment.

“It’s sad, illogical and it will be damaging,” said Robert Lynch, president and CEO of the Americans for the Arts. “All the data, everything, points to the fact that investment in the arts industry has been a big win, economically and job-wise. ”

The administration justifies the elimination by saying that the work of the cultural agencies isn’t a core federal responsibility, and that most are supported with private donations. That reasoning comes on the heels of Trump’s State of the Union address, which boasted that “Americans fill the world with art and music,” noted Lynch.

With President Trump threatening to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, Washington Post Reporter Geoff Edgers takes a 36-hour car ride through Indiana to see just where those funds are spent. (Video: Ashleigh Joplin/The Washington Post)

“There’s a disconnect somewhere,” Lynch said. “The federal investment in the arts helps power the creative economy across the country. I’ll use the NEA as an example. It is still the largest single funding source out there, (but) that’s not its real power. Federal investment leverages state, local and private money. It’s a proven stimulator.”

The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would receive $15 million, a cut of $480 million from 2017’s figure. The proposal would destroy the agency that supports the public television and radio, said CPB president and chief executive Patricia Harrison.

“Our nation’s non-commercial public media is made possible by a uniquely American, entrepreneurial, public-private partnership,” she said in a statement. “Federal funding is the foundation of that partnership.”

The National Endowment for the Arts would be cut from $150 million in 2017 to $29 million next year, and the National Endowment for the Humanities would be cut from $150 million to $42 million. The Institute of Museum and Library Services faces a $208 million cut, bringing its funding to $23 million for 2019.

“We are disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals in thousands of communities and in every congressional district in the nation,” NEA chairwoman Jane Chu said in a statement. “We understand that the President’s budget request is a first step in a very long budget process. We stand ready to assist in that process as we continue to operate as usual.”

NEH Senior Deputy Chairman Jon Parrish Peede said the agency will continue to work as the budget debates begins. Since it was created in 1965, the NEH has awarded more than $5.6 billion in grants that supported books, movies and museum exhibitions, among other cultural projects.

In a statement, IMLS director Kathryn K. Matthews said her agency is the primary source of federal funding for museums and libraries.

“Without IMLS funding for museums and libraries, it would be more difficult for many people to gain access to the internet, continue their education, learn critical research skills, and find employment,” Matthews said.

Laura Lott, president and chief executive of the American Alliance of Museums, blasted the “continued threats” to the cultural agencies that support the work of her membership.

“Today, the White House doubled down on its appalling request to eliminate key agencies that help museums nationwide serve their communities. These continued threats only reaffirm how critical our ongoing advocacy efforts will be in 2018,” she said. “President Trump’s last round of misguided cuts has already been rejected by committees on both sides of Capitol Hill. The museum field must now work with its bipartisan allies in Congress to ensure this reckless proposal meets the same fate.”

Rep. Leonard Lance (R-NJ), co-chairman of the Congressional Arts Caucus sounded optimistic about continued Congressional support for the agencies.

“There is an old saying, ‘the President proposes and Congress disposes’.  When drastic cuts to the NEA and NEH were proposed last year, I led a bipartisan coalition to maintain funding for these important federal programs,” Lance said. “Lawmakers were persuaded by the multiplier effect of arts funding – the leveraging of a small federal investment for the major economic return to the U.S. economy.  We won the legislative fight last fiscal year and will do so again this year.”

Lynch echoed Lance’s message, but he acknowledged that the annual battle takes a toll and expressed disappointment that the fight was not for increased support but for the status quo.

“I do not think the arts community will get too tired. There’s an energy to keep going,” he said.