That whole Snoop Dogg thing must’ve gotten under Trump’s skin more than he let on. In his budget, released today, the president added to his list of public enemies: joining the press as a societal hazard are those that try to help the poor and America’s artists.
The New York Times reports that, among other cuts, Trump wants to completely get rid of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Why? Because he wants an additional $60 billion for military and defense spending.
Now, let’s be clear: neither of our two national arts organizations have particularly large budgets. Together, they get $300 million annually to distribute to artists; as a percentage of our total $1.1 trillion in annual spending we, in America, have one of the smallest national arts budgets in the developed world.
If our arts spending is so small, then why is this a big deal? How does it affect people we know and care about?
Let’s take a look at the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Awards for 2016, shall we?
There were 12 awards distributed. All were given to organizations that served underrepresented communities, and a five were given to those that explicitly serve “youth of color,” “youngsters experiencing challenges within their Detroit and Flint, Michigan communities” and “urban teens.”
You might say, well, that’s only 12 groups, and I don’t live in Flint or in St. Louis or any of the places where they operate. Well, here’s the thing: getting any money at all from either endowment attracts money from private sources — receiving even a small grant from the National Endowment for the Arts is a powerful co-sign that brings private funding in.
As with the youth program award recipients, the descriptions of the programs that received smaller grants are littered with phrases like “served are underserved … African-American families” and “the project will focus on … underserved communities.”
According to the National Endowment for the Arts, “40 percent of NEA-supported activities take place in high-poverty neighborhoods,” and “33 percent of NEA grants serve low-income audiences.”
Last week, Chance the Rapper went back to his old neighborhood in Chicago, the sort of neighborhood the NEA would classify as “high-poverty,” and gave $1 million, while pledging and additional $100,000, to arts programs for urban students.
Chance did this because there’s not enough money right now for after-school programs and for arts enrichment programs. Imagine how things will be should the Endowment for the Arts and the Endowment for the Humanities be cut. We will be completely reliant on the largess of individuals like Chance.
How’s that going to work out? Well, Chance asked others to donate to the arts as he has; as of yet, no one has stepped forward.
Chance himself is the product of the sorts of programs the National Endowment for the Arts funds, as is the writer you’re reading now. For less than one percent of the national budget, we get all sorts of amazing art and arts training. Without summer programs for students, without after-school programs, without Chance, Alvin Ailey, Tuskegee, your friendly neighborhood Blavity writers and so many other black cultural institutions, what will America feel like?
The good news is our president is a president, not a king: Congress will craft our actual budget, not Trump. Trump’s budget however, is the president’s recommendation for what our senators and representatives ought to do. So prepare for more attacks on the arts, and start calling your representatives to let them know how you feel.