The National Endowment for the Arts, which faces elimination in the current proposed federal budget, has issued a statement on its homepage asserting that no funds have been awarded to the Public Theater's Shakespeare in the Park presentation of Julius Caesar, which depicts a Donald Trump-like portrayal of the assassinated title character. This comes a day after announcements from both Delta Air Lines and Bank of America that they were withdrawing their sponsorship of the Oskar Eustis-helmed production.
Additionally, the NEA states no funds went toward the New York State Council on the Arts’ $56,000 grant to the Public Theater for the 2017 fiscal year. (The grant awarded $15,000 for the Public’s Under the Radar Festival and $41,000 for general operating support of the Public’s programming, including the Shakespeare in the Park season.)
The NEA has awarded funds for the Public’s Shakespeare in the Park seasons in recent years, including a $100,000 grant in 2016, a $60,000 grant in 2015, and an $80,000 grant in 2014. The NEA declined to comment on whether the Public had applied for any grants for this summer season. The Public Theater received $25,000 this year for the New York Voices program at Joe’s Pub. Playbill has reached out to the theatre company regarding its application process for the Shakespeare in the Park Season.
While the NEA and NEH received a modest increase in funding for the remainder of the 2017 fiscal year (ending September 30), the Trump administration's 2018 outline calls for the eventual elimination of both organizations. As previously reported, the NEA continues to provide support for artists and art organizations through grants and education initiatives and has made a direct impact on the development of several acclaimed plays and musicals.
In a statement, the Public said, “We stand completely behind our production of Julius Caesar. We recognize that our interpretation of the play has provoked heated discussion; audiences, sponsors, and supporters have expressed varying viewpoints and opinions. Such discussion is exactly the goal of our civically-engaged theater; this discourse is the basis of a healthy democracy.”
The statement continues: “Our production of Julius Caesar in no way advocates violence towards anyone. Shakespeare’s play, and our production, make the opposite point: those who attempt to defend democracy by undemocratic means pay a terrible price and destroy the very thing they are fighting to save. For over 400 years, Shakespeare’s play has told this story and we are proud to be telling it again in Central Park.”
Eustis echoed this sentiment in his remarks prior to the June 12 opening night performance: “We’re here to uphold the Public’s mission, and the Public’s mission is to say that the culture belongs to everybody—needs to belong to everybody, to say that art has something to say about the great civic issues of our time, and to say that like drama, democracy depends on the conflict of different points of view. Nobody owns the truth. We all own the culture.”
Take a look at his speech below.
A brief clip of remarks from Oskar Eustis before the show begins. Happy opening, JULIUS CAESAR. pic.twitter.com/84zx8KgvxN— The Public Theater (@PublicTheaterNY) June 13, 2017
The free, outdoor production is scheduled to play through June 18. The cast includes Gregg Henny, Nikki M. James, Elizabeth Marvel, John Douglas Thompson, and Tina Benko.