People For the American Way

Trump Attack on Arts and Humanities Undermines American Values, Harms American Communities

News and Analysis
Trump Attack on Arts and Humanities Undermines American Values, Harms American Communities

The Trump administration’s proposed budget for 2018 calls for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities, in addition to deep and damaging cuts to programs that serve vulnerable Americans and to basic scientific and medical research that benefits all Americans.

As short-sighted and destructive as the Trump budget is, it should clarify for Americans just how damaging it can be to hand the government over to people who are actively hostile toward the role it plays in sustaining our communities and culture.

This attempt to destroy the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities reflects a tragic failure to appreciate the important role that the arts play in American communities, and the importance of literature and history in helping Americans understand and explore our nation’s story.

Great art should be available to all Americans, not just those who live in the nation’s largest cities. The National Endowment for the Arts has expanded access to the arts for Americans in all 50 states with support for museums, performing arts groups, and arts education. As Americans for the Arts President Robert Lynch noted this week, the NEA has placed art therapists in military hospitals to help wounded vets recover from their injuries. As Sophie Gilbert notes in The Atlantic:

Forty percent of the NEA’s budget goes directly to states to spend for themselves, with the proviso that they match the funds dollar for dollar via their own arts agencies—encouraging a further investment in the arts at the state level. Just as significantly, 65 percent of the NEA’s direct grants go to small and medium-sized arts groups, keeping the arts alive in rural and underserved communities. It’s here where the agency’s elimination would be most keenly felt, at organizations largely ignored by private donors, but which bring the arts to audiences including veterans and schoolchildren, often in impoverished neighborhoods.

The National Endowment for the Humanities has supported 16 Pulitzer Prize-winning books; the Library of America editions of novels, essays and poems; and documentary productions such as Ken Burns’s The Civil War, which was seen by 38 million Americans.

Trump is not the first right-wing politician to attack federal support for the arts. In 1989, Sen. Jesse Helms led a crusade by Religious Right activists and their political supporters to defund the NEA based on their culture war complaints about a few artists out of thousands of exhibits the agency had made possible. People For the American Way mobilized public support for the arts and free expression and was credited by Sen. Orrin Hatch for contributing to the effort to preserve NEA funding.

The next attack came after Republicans took control of Congress in 1994 and Newt Gingrich called for defunding the NEA, NEH, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Agency budgets were cut but not eliminated. In 1997, the right-wing Republican House again voted to eliminate NEA funding, but that effort was blocked by the Senate.

People For the American Way and PFAW Foundation have always been dedicated to defending freedom of expression—for authors, visual artists, filmmakers, playwrights, actors, and dancers; for students and teachers; and for all Americans in their daily lives.

The arts and humanities have enjoyed bipartisan support for decades. People For the American Way will work with our allies, arts advocates, and members of Congress from both parties to resist this attack on American culture and communities.