Not a full week into his presidency, Donald Trump and his cabinet expressed interest in abolishing seventeen government agencies. According to Time Magazine, the office of violence against women, as well as both the the civil rights and the environmental and natural resources division of the justice department are in danger of abolishment.
While all three of those are extremely disconcerting in their own right, Trump also wants to abolish the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA). Why? To Trump and his entourage, the reason lies in (not surprising in the least bit) money. These agencies cost about 46 cents per American. But Trump, so determined not to pay more than he feels necessary, is willing to eliminate these crucial and well beloved agencies.
The NEA was founded in 1965 with the goal to “give Americans the opportunity to participate in the arts, exercise their imaginations, and develop their creative capacities.” And since then, has given thousands of grants to individual artists and communities to help encourage an atmosphere of artistic creativity in America. The blessings of the NEA extend beyond high art culture. It has given opportunities to those less fortunate to engage in the act of creating, along with giving artists a means of supporting themselves.
If you are happy that Trump wants to stop the NEA because you think it would save this country from debt, it is worth noting that the NEA’s total spending amounts to .006 percent of 2016’s federal spending. Simply put, it won’t make a difference we can possibly recognize.
Americans should be angry, and they should be against this proposal.
When we think of America, great art and artists ought to come to mind. This country has given the western world some of the greatest artists of the last 300 years. It would be impossible to list them all, but in literature we only need to think of Melville, Frost, Faulkner, Morrison; in the visual arts: Thomas Cole, Cassatt, O’Keefe, Warhol; in film: Buster Keaton, Orson Welles, Woody Allen, Coppola. Again, I could go on. Our nation has a rich heritage of art history. And in the last fifty years, the NEA has helped to bring the great gift of creative art to those with voices who deserve to be heard.
This is not the first time a president has attempted to eliminate the NEA. Reagan tried, but thankfully failed, because his task force convinced him "the benefits of past assistance” the NEA has given American citizens was worth funding.
Art is one of the best ways we can exercise our right to free speech. If we care for that privilege, and feel we deserve to be heard in any medium, we need to choose for the arts to continue to be available to all citizens no matter their class, race, or gender.
Aside from money, we should be concerned with the attitude our country has towards the arts. What Trump is threatening to do effectively says the arts aren’t important enough. Today our decision to abolish the NEA may feel (to some) like the pragmatic thing to do, but in years to come we may think otherwise – when the arts become a joke, a mere hobby; not a job, not a means of supporting your family, not a medium of communication, simply a spectacle.