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Donald Trump proposes to scrap arts funding from NEA to federal funds for PBS channel and NPR radio

Funding was introduced to legislation in 1965 because 'any advanced civilisation' was expected to value the arts and humanities

Roisin O'Connor
Thursday 16 March 2017 08:51 GMT
Donald Trump returns to the White House after speaking at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee
Donald Trump returns to the White House after speaking at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee (Getty)

Donald Trump has proposed eliminating both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, in a move that would see the worst fears of arts groups around the US realised.

In his first federal budget plan, President Trump also proposed scrapping the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which is a key revenue source for PBS and National Public Radio (NPR) stations.

The news was first reported by Cynthia Haven, a visiting scholar at Stanford University, and subsequently confirmed by the New York Times.

Combined annual budgets for the endowments, which is around $300 million (0.003 per cent), are just a small fraction of the nearly $4 trillion total in annual discretionary spending in the US.

Eliminating the funding would see budgets removed from the NEA, the NEH, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and could also affect the Smithsonian Institution and the National Gallery of Art.

It is apparently the first time a president has called for ending the endowments, which were created in 1965 after President Lyndon B Johnson signed legislation that declared any "advanced civilisation" must fully value the arts, the humanities, and cultural activity.

The cuts had been rumoured for some time, with reports that the White House budget had drafted a "hit list" of programmes that cost relatively little to run.

The Association of Art Museum Directors issued one of the first statements in response to the President's plan and urged Congress to save the endowments.

"I'm sort of dumbstruck," the association's president Brian Ferriso said. "I'm hopeful that Congress will take the time to say, 'Hey, wait a second. We need these cultural elements to our society."

PEN, an organisation of writers and editors focusing on freedom of expression, has organised a petition calling for the preservation of the NEA which has received more than 230,000 signatures.

Meanwhile endowment leaders have said they are "saddened" to learn that their own executive branch is seeking to shut them down.

"We are greatly saddened to learn of this proposal for elimination, as NEH has made significant contributions to the public good," William D. Adams, chairman of the humanities endowment, said in a statement.

According to the Times, the NEA and NEH will operate as usual until Trump's budget goes through Congress, which has the final say.

Arts groups are unlikely to get their hopes up, however, as Republican congress members have long advocated for the programmes' elimination.

News of the funding cuts will sting all the more with the knowledge that Trump spent $15 million of taxpayers' money in his first month in office thanks to his trips to the Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, which he has dubbed the "Winter White House".

As well as concerns over the club's security and the appropriateness of holding discussions about strategy in full view of the club's members, Trump's weekend stays at the resort reportedly cost around $3 million per visit when factoring in travel, additional security and police overtime.

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