Long before it was unveiled, there was little doubt that Donald Trump’s first budget would increase spending on police and the military and slash funding to the arts, scientific research, and environmental protection. Yet the president still managed to surprise with the scope of his proposed cuts. Along with massive reductions in funding for the Environmental Protection Agency, the State Department, the Department of Labor, and other federal agencies, Trump’s budget calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
How does this affect you? If you’ve ever attended a free program at your neighborhood library, enjoyed a summer concert at a public park, caught a movie or two at your town’s film festival, read a classic book from the Library of America series, taken a high-school or college humanities course, or watched Sesame Street with your children, chances are that you have the NEA, the NEH, or the CPB to thank for it. Imagine losing all of that overnight.
Public funding for the arts and humanities is a popular target for a particular breed of conservative. Mick Mulvaney, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, argued that the government can’t ask steelworkers and coal miners for money. “Can I really go to those folks, look them in the eye, and say, ‘Look, I want to take money from you and I want to give it to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting’?” Pat Buchanan, the twice-failed presidential candidate, was gleeful about the cuts: “The Lord has been good to me late in life, my friend,” he told an interviewer. And Fox News personality Tucker Carlson foolishly declared, “The NEA is, in effect, welfare for rich liberal elites. That’s who consumes the products that they produce.”
To hear these guys tell it, you’d think funding for the arts was hobbling the federal budget by taking money from coal miners and using it to pay for artists to sunbathe in Cancún. In reality, 40 percent of funds from the NEA go directly to states to finance arts programs, particularly in rural areas that don’t have a robust arts infrastructure. Furthermore, the combined budget for the NEA and the NEH is under $300 million per year. That’s 0.008 percent of the federal budget. If you add in the CPB, which gets another $445 million annually, the cost is still under 0.02 percent of the total budget—a pittance, especially compared with what nations like Germany or Sweden spend. France recently increased the budget of its Ministry of Culture to $3.2 billion. (Yes, billion with a “b.”)