Despite a WhiteHouse.gov petition that gained over 100,000 signatures, statements from the likes of Lincoln Center, Actors Equity Association, and Americans for the Arts, and urging from U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the Trump administration will move forward with its proposal to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities.
The announcement came March 16 as the administration released a budget outline, titled "America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again," containing several cuts to domestic and non-defense programs. The proposal now goes to Congress, and once resolved, would go into effect in the new fiscal year beginning October 1.
Members of the NEA staff spoke to Playbill on the condition of anonymity, confirming that NEA Chairwoman Jane Chu informed her staff of the proposed elimination on March 15 so that the news would not be broken to them in subsequent media reports.
The cuts are part of the president’s reported $10.5 trillion spending reduction plan. In January, The Washington Post examined how cutting the federal funds for the NEA and NEH would contribute to this figure. Both organizations requested $148 million in funds in 2016, accounting for .006 percent (combined) of the $3.9 trillion spent by the U.S. government that fiscal year.
The National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act was signed by President Lyndon Johnson in 1965. The two organizations were created to “promote progress and scholarship in the humanities and the arts in the United States…in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.”
In an interview with Playbill, Dramatists Guild President Doug Wright shared ways members of the community can take action as these organizations and similar initiatives are threatened. “Artists should call their local lawmakers and lodge protests. They should engage the press. And over the next four years, they should use the platform of their work—their plays, their operas, their paintings, and their music—to address their frustration with the government’s shortsightedness,” he said. “If arts funding is cut from schools, they should volunteer.”
(Updated March 16)