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GOP, Trump at Odds Over Funding for the Arts

Image: GOP, Trump at Odds Over Funding for the Arts
Republican Study Committee Chairman Mark Walker (AP)

By    |   Friday, 09 Mar 2018 02:09 PM

The Trump administration's 2019 budget proposal calls for eliminating federal funding for the arts, but some Republicans are likely to buck the president and fund them anyway.

Under the president's proposed budget, National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for Humanities (NEH) funding would plummet from approximately $150 million in fiscal year 2018 to $29 million for the NEA and $42 million for NEH in 2019.

In a sense, the battle over arts funding is deja vu all over again: Trump proposed zeroing out funding for the NEA last year. Congress shrugged off Trump's proposal, and allocated an additional $2 million for the NEA and the NEH.

In a sign the administration's ideological opposition to federal funding of the arts continues, Trump's 2019 proposed budget again calls for drastic cuts to both the NEA and NEH, as a transitional step toward shutting them down altogether.

One reason the administration has yet to succeed in its bid to get the government out of the arts: Leading members of his own party — including leading conservatives, support the federal funding.

House Deputy Minority Whip Tom Cole, R-Okla., has noted art funding has a lot of support, and has questioned the utility of fighting to cut a program that represents such a minuscule fraction of the federal budget.

During the last budget go-round, Rep. Mark Walker, the chairman of the conservative Republican Study Committee, noted his family has strong ties to the music and theatrical community.

"I appreciate the education that is found in the arts, so at this point I have no path to making any kind of hard cuts right now."

Republican art aficionados argue that slashing funding is the wrong approach to restoring fiscal discipline. Federal arts funding makes up less than half a percent of the federal budget.

According to the U.S. Department of Commerce Bureau of Economic Analysis, arts and culture added $764 billion to the economy in 2015, accounting for a $21 billion trade surplus for the United States.

Earle Mack, chairman emeritus of the New York State Council on the Arts, who also served as former President George W. Bush's ambassador to Finland, says the notion of eliminating federal arts funding tends to come and go.

"Arts and humanities are important for our foreign affairs," said Mack, and arts and culture show America in a good light abroad. "It's something that makes us proud to be Americans; they make other countries have great respect for America."

Randy Cohen, vice president of research and policy at Americans for the Arts, an arts advocacy organization, says the notion that arts are an unproductive drain on the economy and the federal budget "is a common myth."

Rather than being dead weight, arts and culture contribute 4.23 percent of the nation's Gross Domestic Product. Analysts say they generate over 4 million American jobs.

One way to envision what life would be like without the arts, Cohen says, is to imagine communities without them: "No Nutcracker ballet during the holidays, no community orchestra playing on Fourth of July, no Saturday afternoons with the family at the zoo, barren public plazas without sculptures, no choir or school orchestra for our kids. It is easy to see past it, but the evidence of creativity and art surrounds us," he says.

For many conservatives, support for the arts is more about economics than aesthetics. They realize it provides a lot of bang for the buck. In fact, the NEA calculates that each dollar of federal arts funding helps generation $9 in private and charitable funding, because federal grants encourage local governments and communities to support the arts as well.

According to a 2017 Dun & Bradstreet analysis of 673,656 businesses, nonprofit museums, symphonies, and theaters indirectly bolster other industries such as film, architecture, and design.

It's also a major boost to the tourism big business. Studies show about a third of arts patrons live outside the county where a given event — an art show or exhibit, for example — takes place. Arts travelers are ideal tourists, staying longer and spending more as they seek out cultural experiences.

Arts funding accomplishes another business goal as well, advocates argue. Creativity and innovation are consistently listed among the top five skills sought by business leaders, according to the Conference Board's Ready to Innovate report. Research shows Nobel laureates in the sciences are 17 times more likely to be actively engaged in the arts than other scientists.

In an administration so focused on trade, it is worth pointing out that the arts have actually experienced a trade surplus and outperformed the overall United States Balance of Trade, while goods and services experience deficits, said Mack.

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The Trump administration’s 2019 budget proposal calls for eliminating federal funding for the arts, but some Republicans are likely to buck the president and fund them anyway.
donald trump, budget, arts, funding
Friday, 09 Mar 2018 02:09 PM
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