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February 22, 2018

What Happens When Funding for Art Falls Apart

The Trump administration's recent budget proposal needlessly and dangerously cuts funding for arts and the humanities.

The Trump administration released its budget proposal last Monday, February 12. It would introduce major budget cuts, and while many of the cuts are unlikely to be put into effect in light of Congress’s recent spending limit increase, it is important to examine the cuts as a marker of the current administration's priorities. The proposed budget would seriously reduce funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB). Each institution would lose hundreds of millions of dollars in funding. Each cut would take away around two-thirds of funding for these institutions. I’ll tell it like it is: This is an enormous threat to American culture. This budget says that the current administration does not value the arts and the humanities and does not wish to fund their organized development.

The NEA is the largest existing grant maker to arts organizations. Among others, it funds the American Ballet Theatre, largely recognized as the greatest ballet company in the United States, as well as the Arts and Artifacts Indemnity Program, which ensures that priceless art can be affordably shipped and displayed in such establishments as the National Gallery.

The CPB ensures the existence of public media in the United States. If you’ve ever heard “I’m Audie Cornish and this is All Things Considered,” or perhaps “You’re listening to Fresh Air with your host, Terry Gross,” you have felt the impact of the CPB, which funds National Public Radio (NPR), a vast multimedia news organization that works with individual member stations to relay news not funded by any politically motivated backer (no small feat in 2018).

The NEH, one of the largest existing national funders of the humanities, has played a part in funding 16 Pulitzer Prize­–winning and 20 Bancroft Prize–winning books, the Library of America, a collection of notable American literary works, and the United States Newspaper Project, which has catalogued, microfilmed, and digitized 63.3 million pages of our history. The IMLS offers a multitude of grants for museums and libraries across the nation and conducts critical research and data compilations on the nation’s libraries and museums.

One cannot escape the reach of these four institutions in Chicago. The University of Chicago and the Oriental Institute Museum, as well as the Art Institute of Chicago, DuSable Museum of African American History, Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium, and many other local museums, have all received sizeable grants from the IMLS. Numerous UChicago professors, most recently Law School professor Alison La Croix, have received grants and fellowships from the NEH. She used this fellowship to research her upcoming book: The Interbellum Constitution: Union, Commerce, and Slavery From the Long Founding Moment to the Civil War. UChicago’s Court Theatre and the Renaissance Society have both received multiple grants from the NEA, which has also funded many visiting artists’ performances at the University. And as for the CPB—well, it seems obvious that an academic institution such as ours would value a nonprofit source of news media. But if the principle isn’t enough for you, WBEZ Chicago is one of the original nonprofit news radio stations funded by the CPB. Many of the core NPR shows are based out of Chicago, such as the cherished Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me!, the NPR news quiz. Much of the art and culture of Chicago that we know and love would not exist or be available to us without these four vital institutions.

While the reach of these institutions is undeniable, you might still ask yourself, why do I care about museums? Why do I care about arts grants? The United States is an enormous cultural presence. This art and media allows us to discuss and express our vibrant culture. It might be annoying that art seems seeped in politics these days, but it is no coincidence. In times of political turmoil, we turn to the various mediums of the humanities to help us express the complicated issues we face and the diversity of perspective present in this country. Though the Trump administration loves to accuse people of being unpatriotic, its proposed budget is a disregard for the arts that is truly unpatriotic—for the simple reason that the arts and humanities are the purest expression of our right to free speech.

Zoe Bean is a first-year in the College. 

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