On Thursday morning, President Trump’s proposal for the federal budget confirmed a fact long suspected: the proposed elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Together, the four groups receive less than a billion dollars a year, with the NEA and the NEH costing taxpayers $148 million a year each—approximately 0.004 percent of the federal budget individually. Their elimination would be largely symbolic, signaling the Trump administration’s intent to slash spending it sees as “wasteful” while potentially spending 146 times as much as the NEA’s annual allotment on a border wall whose efficacy even Republican lawmakers have disputed.
But eliminating the NEA would also have a very real cost. Its grants are bestowed to all 50 states in the nation, in all congressional districts. Forty percent of the NEA’s budget goes directly to states to spend for themselves, with the proviso that they match the funds dollar for dollar via their own arts agencies—encouraging a further investment in the arts at the state level. Just as significantly, 65 percent of the NEA’s direct grants go to small and medium-sized arts groups, keeping the arts alive in rural and underserved communities. It’s here where the agency’s elimination would be most keenly felt, at organizations largely ignored by private donors, but which bring the arts to audiences including veterans and schoolchildren, often in impoverished neighborhoods.