After taking office, President Donald Trump discussed various initiatives, including defunding the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), as seen in Alexander Bolton’s Jan. 19 article on The Hill’s website.
The NEA was established by Congress in 1965 and serves as the “independent federal agency whose funding and support gives Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations and develop their creative capacities,” according to the National Endowment for the Arts’ website. Though an official proposal has not yet been released, many Americans are wondering what the consequences would be if the NEA was defunded. On the website of We the People—a platform that allows citizen to petition the U.S. government—two petitions have been created to stop this from happening, totaling almost 300,000 signatures. There are also artists who argue against the NEA, because it is not allowing for free market competition.
“It’s really hard to know what it would look like if there was a proposal (to defund the NEA)—it could take a lot of different forms,” said Idaho Commission on the Arts Public Information Officer and Literature Director Jocelyn Robertson.
Robertson said President Trump has talked about federal agencies not imposing “one size fits all” solutions and the NEA and NEH represent the kind of effective federalist government Trump’s Administration has previously discussed.
“It would be a statement (to defund the NEA and NEH), because it would have no discernible effects on the budget deficit,” Robertson said. “It would have a lot of ramifications, but not for the national budget.”
As stated on the NEA’s Jan. 2017 Arts Investment Fact Sheet, “In its fiscal year 2016, the NEA provided $787,100 in Partnership Agreement funds to the Idaho Commission on the Arts.”
“That money, by law, has to be matched by our state appropriation,” Robertson said. “Half of our funding comes directly from the NEA and the other half comes directly from the state.”
These funds are able to be leveraged through direct grants to art organizations and artists throughout Idaho, according to Robertson.
“In 2016 we awarded direct operating support grants to 73 organizations throughout our state,” Robertson said. “We also funded grants to 28 organizations and school districts which reached about 126,000 Idaho children.”
While many support the NEA, others do not, such as Artistic Director of the Blue Box World Theater Company in New York City David Marcus who was interviewed by Scott Simon with NPR. Marcus said the governmental support of the arts hinders free market competition.
“These arts organizations are less incentivized towards going out and getting new audiences than they are to going out and getting new grants,” Marcus said in the NPR interview. “So I think that if we removed some of that grant incentive and forced these arts organizations to compete in a free market place, we’d see a more vibrant arts community that was bringing in more diverse audiences and just larger audiences, in general.”
Project Manager for The Cabin—a Boise nonprofit center for reading and writing—Katie Fuller said losing NEA funding would affect The Cabin’s ability to provide workshops, host community-based events, as well as bring nationally renowned writers to Boise through their Readings and Conversations series.
“(Defunding the NEA) would deemphasize that the arts are important on the national level, and it’s something everybody in American society can contribute to and be proud of and be a part of,” Fuller said.
The Cabin is supported by various sources, such as the NEA and the members of the community. If the NEA is defunded, local support will become more essential.
“The Cabin’s pretty motivated to find funding. We are definitely concerned about the rumors, but our plan is to wait and see what happens, and also to realize the Treasure Valley community has always really supported us in a myriad of ways,” Fuller said.
Art Professor Stephanie Bacon—who is also Director of Idaho Center for the Book and Co-Director of Boise State’s Arts and Humanities Institute—said the idea that the government would choose not to show concern for the arts makes creative people feel marginalized and unimportant.
“(Defunding the NEA) is incredibly depressing and demoralizing to me, and I’m sure to most practicing artists,” Bacon said. “We’re used to working without a ton of support, but NEA projects tend to benefit big collaborative projects and community arts initiatives.”
As Americans wait to see what transpires, Robertson advised people to withhold judgement until more information is available.
“The NEA and our legislators in Idaho have given us broad bipartisan support—that’s been the case at the state and the national level,” Robertson said. “We have a lot of people who love the arts and a lot of people in government who love the arts. We don’t want to alienate people by making assumptions about what they’re going to do before we know there’s actual action.”