US arts funding in the Trump era

As the world’s media fascinates with the daily twists and turns of the Trump administration in national security, trade relations and social cohesion, creative artists in the US have been expressing concerns about future funding for the arts.  According to a range of US news sources, the new President's views on the position and funding of the arts remain ‘opaque’ and uncertain.  There are reports that, as part of the drive to reduce the federal bureaucracy, the National Endowment for the Arts should be eliminated and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting privatised.  Previous presidential aspirations to get rid of the national arts and arts research grant funder NEA have been avoided through the intervention of high profile entertainment figures.  Ronald Regan was apparently diverted from reducing NEA funding by a Charlton Heston led taskforce, but to date Trump’s relationship with entertainment celebrities, such as his run in with Meryl Streep, indicates that showbiz intervention may not be as successful this time round. Speaking in Variety, Eric Ortner, a member of the former President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities said ‘We are going to have a big fight on our hands . . . but I don’t think the question is, ‘Should we send Alec Baldwin to the Hill?’ The question is, ‘How do we talk about the work?’ 

Looming in the background is a 2016 report produced by the conservative Heritage Foundation ‘Blueprint for Balance: A Federal Budget for 2017’ which recommends not only the elimination of the NEA but also the National Endowment for the Humanities and declares that ‘Taxpayer assistance of the arts is neither necessary nor prudent’. (The full report is available at: https://thfreports.s3.amazonaws.com/2016/BlueprintforBalance.pdf)

Meanwhile artists are fearful of the impact of proposed legislative changes, such as reform to tax codes which cap tax deductible donations to under US$200,000 per couple.  Given that the arts received 30% of its funding from donations from foundations, private individuals and corporations this could have a major impact on sustainability.   

Taking a more positive view, Mike Blakeslee, the executive director of the National Association for Music Education, sees the appointment of Betsy DeVos as Education Secretary as an important move for arts education given her connection with the Kennedy Centre and multi-million donations to the arts from her family Foundation.

To add to the confusion and uncertainty, there are even reports that the President’s transition team had considered a major government arts role for Sylvester Stallone! Strange times may be ahead for artists in the US. Americans for the Arts in Washington D.C are holding an Arts Advocacy event on March 21 so perhaps the picture may be made clearer in the next few weeks.

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