A federal budget proposal leaked by President-elect Donald Trump’s transition team has revealed his administration’s intention to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts.
According to The Hill, the elimination of the NEA is part of a plan to reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion. Other cuts would eliminate programs in the Transportation, Justice and State departments, and lay out a plan to privatize the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
While a reduction in government funding would be potentially devastating for arts nonprofits, the loss of the NEA would specifically impact urban design projects funded through the NEA’s grants in cities all over the United States.
The NEA was established in 1965 as an independent federal agency focused on supporting artists. During its first 50 years, the NEA awarded over $5 billion to projects in all 50 states, the only arts group in the country to do so. It has also formed lasting partnerships across government agencies, like the influential Mayors’ Institute on City Design. In recent years, however, the NEA has invested heavily in creative placemaking projects that improve cities, particularly underserved neighborhoods.
These are just a few of the NEA’s recent successes:
- Developing an innovation district to serve Boston residents
- Transforming a blighted Baltimore neighborhood with murals
- Activating vacant lots to connect Phoenix residents
- Building a new mapping tool for New Orleans to take stock of cultural resources
In its most recent grant cycle, the agency awarded $5 million in Our Town grants funding community-focused projects in 70 cities across the country. These range from redesigning a pedestrian corridor in El Paso, Texas, to reimagining the master plan of Flint, Michigan. The NEA also conducts extensive research to study the long-term impact of its grantmaking, which has been proven to boost economic development.
There is also evidence that there’s growing support from the American people for the type of work the NEA does. The advocacy group Americans for the Arts points to a public opinion study the organization conducted earlier this year:
Community-oriented arts funding has high public value: When presented with specific types of arts funding opportunities, public support skyrockets. Respondents are especially likely to favor government arts funding for art in parks and public spaces (72 percent), to aid returning military personnel in their transition to civilian life, and to create programs for the elderly (70 percent). Sixty-nine percent favor using the arts to beautify blighted areas, and to promote pro-social behavior with at-risk youth.
Any changes to the federal budget must be approved by Congress, so the elimination of the NEA is not a done deal. But zeroing out the NEA’s budget would eradicate a program that yields clear benefits for cities and their residents. When the government makes these types of investments, they act as multipliers which ripple out into the communities for many years after a grant is fulfilled. As the NEA has proved, a tiny investment in the arts can go a long way towards strengthening a city.