Editors Note: This piece was also featured in DCReport.
BY JEANETTE LENOIR
When it comes to the state of the Arts and the Humanities under Donald Trump’s administration, not much has changed other than his lack of action, his proposals to eliminate all funding for the independent federal funding agencies and his refusal to attend major cultural events.
The four new board members Trump said he would appoint to the National Council on the Arts were finally announced earlier this month. They are; Charles Wickser Banta of New York, Michelle Itczak of Indiana, Barbara Coleen Long of Missouri and Carleton Varney of Massachusetts. If these nominees are in line with Trump’s personal palate for art, Americans for the arts and humanities should prepare for the Scott Pruitt’s and Betsy DeVos’s of the art world. Funding for the arts hasn’t changed by much, but that’s only because Congress voted to restore money for the programs in the 2018 spending bill. Trump’s proposed budget would have phased out all arts and humanities funding.
Victoria Hutter, spokesperson for National Endowment for the Arts, said “all of the NEA’s major funding programs have remained the same or seen slight increases.” That’s true for now for the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).
Trump shows no interest in arts and culture. He skipped the Kennedy Center Honors, hasn’t given out any NEA or NEH awards, and became the first American president to suggest eliminating NEA and NEH all together. Lady Bird Johnson probably said it best, “Art is the window to man’s soul…” never mind. That may not be the best quote to use when it comes to Trump and the arts considering his attempt to undermine its importance in American society. Lady Bird’s quote, though poignant, clearly doesn’t cover Trump’s “soul window” because his window is covered with gold colored tin foil.
Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-Maine) joined the National Council for the Arts earlier this year. In addition to set functions and advisory roles, members are tasked with recommending individuals and organizations to receive the National Medal of Arts, a prestigious Presidential award. She said, “It’s clear from his repeated proposals to eliminate funding for both agencies that President Trump doesn’t appreciate the important work of the NEA and NEH or understand the incredible value they bring to our communities. That’s disheartening to see, especially because funding for these two agencies is such a miniscule part of the federal budget. But the loss of funding would be felt hard throughout the country. That said, I think the Trump era has shown that the arts and humanities do have allies in Congress—Democrats as well as Republicans. Twice he has proposed eliminating funding and twice it has been denied. This year, Congress actually gave NEA and NEH funding a $3 million increase. And for next year, the House has approved an additional $2 million increase on top of that.”
Bipartisan Congressional support for continued arts and humanities spending was on display just last week in amendments to the Interior Appropriations bill, which funds both agencies. A member introduced an amendment to reduce the two budgets by 15 percent—or $23 million each. The proposed budget cuts failed by a vote of 297-114.
Trump’s lack of interest or value of the Arts and Humanities isn’t a surprise considering his character and boorish behavior. But his attempts to destroy the national endowments for the arts and humanities should be of concern to anyone who considers the arts and culture valuable parts of our American identity.