America will never revive federal arts funding

America will never revive federal arts funding


norman lebrecht

March 17, 2017

The realisation is dawning that when President Trump kills off the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Congress will never again have the guts to support culture with tax money, as it did under Lyndon Johnson’s presidency in 1965.

Here are a couple of instant institutional reactions to the Trump abolition:

Statement by American Federation of Musicians International President Ray Hair regarding President Trump’s Budget which eliminates the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) along with 61 other government programs/agencies.

“I have said it before and I’ll say it again, eliminating the NEA is outrageous and unacceptable. There are orchestras, festivals and theaters in all 50 states that would be permanently damaged without NEA support. It is time for Congress to step up and do the right thing—safeguard the NEA by fully funding this priceless institution.”

Statement by Aaron Dworkin, dean of the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance:

As part of the proposed new federal budget plan, it was announced on March 16, 2017, that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) will be completely eliminated if approved by Congress. Funding for both groups amounted to just 0.003 percent of all federal spending in 2016, with each organization receiving approximately $148 million. Meanwhile, the nonprofit arts industry generates $135 billion in economic activity annually (spending by organizations and their audiences) that supports 4.1 million jobs and generates $22.3 billion in government revenue.

Aside from the positive economic impact realized by this small federal investment–which would no doubt increase with more funding instead of less–the NEA and NEH have a profound impact on the life of our nation; they support the heart and soul of our communities, the creative and intellectual backbone. The arts and humanities are key to innovation and inspiration, to understanding the human condition, and to addressing the complexities of our world. In addition, this small investment leverages private support from individuals, corporations and foundations to make even more impact.

In a country and time that is fractured by partisan dissent, the arts unite audiences in shared experiences, encourage civil discourse and engagement, thrive on collaboration, and celebrate diverse perspectives. And the humanities, in exploring the wide range of human culture, connect us to our past, help us understand our present, and inform us in planning for our future.

At the University of Michigan School of Music, Theatre & Dance, we are educating and training some of the country’s brightest and most talented aspiring artists and scholars in the performing arts. Fully aware of the career challenges that these young people potentially face upon graduation, we are also providing them with a robust program in entrepreneurship, to help them create their own opportunities and careers.

But even with this focus, the NEA and NEH will be critically important in helping our graduates share their incredible gifts to make a positive impact on society, because the NEA and NEH make the largest difference to the thousands of local arts and humanities programs across the nation. They are vital to the communities they serve-to organizations that introduce children to music, theatre, dance, and to other cultures … that engage our youth in after-school programs that funnel their energies into creative explorations and expanded horizons … that provide all ages with inspirational and stimulating performances, exhibits, lecture series, and more.

Trump dining at his gold-plated table



  • Will Duffay says:

    The point for me about arts funding is not that it is self-serving – providing employment for those working in the arts, or support to artists, writers and composers – but that it provides the means for ordinary people like us to experience the arts. In the UK if the arts council disappeared there would still be opera and concerts, but they would be far fewer and ordinary people like us would not be able to afford to attend them. Arts funding is democratic, not elitist (as the elite Right likes to pretend).

  • Ungeheuer says:

    It is a double tragi-comedy, meeting halfway and reaching its natural state of balance. One can throw all the funding in the world at the NEA, PBS, etc in the hope that something sticks. Well, little to nothing is sticking. Not in classical music or opera. The other half in this tragi-comedy is that, let’s face it, the larger public has no interest whatsoever in serious, quality art, let alone in anything demanding concentration for longer than the arrival of the next mobile phone notification. The other day I was aghast watching (not for long) Plácido Domingo “conducting” some dumbed down popera concert on PBS featuring Il Volo. Pretty voices but vacuous, not to mention that the mics were but an inch apart, if that, from the singers lips. Stuff, I suppose, to amuse and lull to bed retirement communities around the country. But if federal, taxpayer dollars went into funding this fiasco, then let the cutbacks roll. I mean, we can easily find Lawrence Welk Show reruns to induce us into commatose state, for free.

    • BillBC says:

      hey, cmon. I’m an opera-goer and big fan, but I liked Il Volo…sure, they aren’t Jussi Bjorling, and what they mostly have is volume, but look at the thousands of people there…at least they weren’t listening to hip hop. And the “retirement communities” comment was unkind as well as snobbish….

  • Dan P. says:

    One may legitimately criticize PBS for having only a minimal amount of classical music and a good bit of nostalgia pop during fundraising periods, but that is hardly all they do. There is lots of quality programing of other kinds on the network (each PBS stations are independent and have their own schedules) that no commercial station would ever touch. In New York, we are lucky to have two PBS stations that present complementary programming. I agree with Ungeheuer that interest in classical music is definitely on the downswing in the US – it has been that way for a long time. But I can’t agree that government funding does not have any impact.

  • timbits says:

    When a person is hit by a car, some folks instinctively rush to his aid. Some folks instinctively call an ambulance. And some folks instinctively pull out a note pad to sketch out a quick obituary.

    • bratschegirl says:

      It’s true, given the current state of things in the US, that if Tiny-fingered Cheeto-faced Ferret-wearing Sh!tgibbon succeeds in eliminating NEA and NEH, it’s highly unlikely that they would ever be reinstated. I think this post *is* the call for the ambulance.

      • Steve P says:

        Trump will do for sake of brevity. But your aspersions are delicious – enjoy whatever socialist enclave in which you reside. I’ll take Trump with a side of less beaucracy and less funding of activist lib organizations any day.

  • John Borstlap says:

    It is amazing that a disgusting photo as above is possible at all, some sort of capitalist kitschporn.

  • Robert von Bahr says:

    What I cannot understand is why everyone is blaming and harrassing Trump. He went to the election with precisely this agenda. He has – ad nauseam – sported these his plans to the media, to the US electorate and to the world at large. Now he is acting on them. That, in my book, earns him respect – he really is something different to all those politicians, with the hot air of whose, escaping from their collective mouths, one could warm a medium-sized country in mid-Winter.

    Don’t blame Trump – but do blame the half of the American people that voted this incredible bad joke of a buffoon into office. They are to blame for supporting such a dis-aaaaa-ster. Unfortunately the consequences aren’t limited to the American people – he will succeed to destroy the planet for us all. At least he will do his worst.

    Robert von Bahr

    • Holly Golightly says:

      After 8 years of the black Jesus what could you expect?

    • John Borstlap says:

      Politicians following-through what they had been promising earlier, is in itself not really something to be respected: Hitler was as loyal to his followers and promises as is Trump and I don’t think that deserves much respect: what it is that is promised, is also important to assess. Also, in a democracy politicians don’t say what they will achieve, but what they want to pursue, which is something different because once in power, there are compromises to make to other points of view and the limitations of reality, both normal boundaries which mr T has never understood.

  • Bruce says:

    The US has many passionate fans (& funders) of the arts, but as a society overall, we’re not just apathetic. We hate the arts, not through fear or ignorance, but because we hate anything that encourages introspection*. It goes against something in our national character.

    *(so maybe it is fear & ignorance, but of ourselves, not the arts)

    • John Borstlap says:

      It rather seems to be something to do with the foundation of the nation: by the people, for the people, so with a populist backbone, and inspired by the French Revolution with its slogan “liberty. equality and fraternity”, in themselves entirely empty and populist notions which could as easily be cultivated by gangsters, academics and women’s committees.

  • OperaGene says:

    Keep in mind that the budget Trump has proposed is his negotiating stance. There is time to influence the final outcome that will emerge from Congress.

    • Dan P. says:

      Even more than that, the president does NOT create the budget, Congress does. What he sends to Congress is just his wish list. Congress has its constituents (and reelections) to keep in mind so there most likely be a large moderating influence there, even if the likelihood of cuts of some kind will most likely be made. Keep in mind that on the large scale cuts (not just considering arts funding, which is small potatoes) will screw over those very people who voted for him. They may STILL be in love with him now, but sooner or later there will be no forgiveness when they start to feel the pain. One only hopes that this is sooner.

  • Peter says:

    that country. nice nature in some national parks. hopeless population. more and more developing into mankind’s worst and most decadent. monkeys with iPhones. sorry for all the good people there, so gravely outnumbered by the moronic mob.

    • Steve P says:

      beautiful country, beautiful people, and more to see and do than any other nation in the world. All this PLUS a freedom to speak and behave as you wish without govt restriction. love being American and love having a president who won’t continue to allow the country to slide into the idiotic globalist decadent overweening cesspool represented by so many other nations of the world. judge away, but the end is nigh for socialists and their progressive ideaology – I’m sure many immigrants share the value in fine arts that you have (not).

      • Holly Golightly says:

        Amen to that!!!

        • Robert von Bahr says:

          …and, as odd as it may seem, a second Amen from me, too. America IS beautiful, and it DOES have the freedom referred to.
          The problem comes, when that freedom is influencing the Rest of the World in a negative way. Whatever Trump does to High Culture and High Art is, basically, a matter for the Americans. And is reversible.

          But when he decides – in spite of totally overwhelming proof to the contrary from all scientists in the world – to put his own uninformed climate opinion (or rather, indifference to the long-term consequences) first, for extremely short-term financial advantages, then that Rest of the World should have the right to interfere. We are already seeing the consequences of the raping of the planet – inhabited islands in the Pacific disappearing, incredibly many more typhoons everywhere (also hitting the US), animal species simply dying out. This is the time for the inhabitants of the Earth to unite, to try to save what can be saved. Fantastic initiatives like Tesla and Elon Musk jettisoned for actively digging out more coal. Support for more research cancelled to build – a wall? Donald J. Trump does indeed have the right to be an idiot. But he shouldn’t have the right to impose that idiocy on the Rest of the World. That’s why I blame that half of the American electorate to have put him into office.

          I live by and from music, but, in the face of global extinction, music takes a decidedly second place.

          Robert von Bahr

          • Peter says:

            It DID have the freedom referred to. It DOES NOT anymore.

            Currently they are spending more money for securing the first ladies’ NY downtown tower per annum, than what they spend for the entire nation on the arts.
            What kind of country is that? Certainly a very uncultured one, as far as the general public is concerned. Not withstanding the art the upper 1% finance privately for their own fine entertainment.
            If you go behind the glittery facade, what is actually there? Which substance. And what substance is still there in niches, how much is left, if you take the contributions of immigrants out of the equation?
            Anyone trying to develop a positive outlook for humanity, will look away from that culturally failed country. Let’s hope their military strength does not mean our collective doom.

      • Peter says:

        There are many countries where one enjoys more freedom to speak and behave than the US. Times they are changing. What you say was true in the 19th century. For white men.

        Also that you don’t see that the US is the forerunner for the globalist decadent developments we are up against, is most ironic.

        What does the US *today* actually stand for that progresses us as mankind?
        I’m hard pressed to find *anything* positive.

  • David Boxwell says:

    Even the Nazis had established and supported the Reichskulturkammer (RKK) to the end of their thousand year reign. Trump, Bannon et al. don’t see any value in the arts. At all.

  • Buxtehude says:

    Bruce — indifference to what We here love, “high art,” so called, might be more like it. The broad masses don’t hate it, they have a different idea of art and of who artists are. Paying for ours, even if just a little, bothers them a lot. Scorning their taste does no good.

    Boxwell — you can’t use Hitler against Trump. Hitler got high on Wagner, Bruckner, and his Germany was still a musical high art kind of place, as it remains today.

    Can we leave behind, for just a moment, the Should in favor of the Is? In this cold light would it be reasonable to suggest that the US electorate, Liberated as it is for the moment, and its representatives, and the government arts administrators who survive in such a matrix, all together form a shaky foundation indeed for support and nurturing of the high arts, for composers & performers both? Shakiness of a kind that is corrosive to good work?

  • Plush says:

    Piss Christ.
    That is all.