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Arts under attack in Trump’s budget

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mary Poppins is pissed, and Elmo was just given his walking papers.

While this may seem like the beginning of a weird joke, it’s not a laughing matter. When Donald Trump announced his first federal budget plan late last week, his presidential proposal featured a bloated military fund and the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—a key source of revenue for PBS and National Public Radio stations.

When looked at through a bigger-picture lens, the endowments Trump is hoping to dump amount to just a tiny fraction (one tenth of 1 percent) of the $1.1 trillion total annual discretionary spending in the federal budget.

The endowments first created by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 are able to provide seed money for arts programming in every Congressional district in the country—including ours—and, as has been pointed out on countless social media posts in the past week, cost less to maintain each year than the amount taxpayers will be forking over to provide security at Trump Tower per annum.

Artists and patrons across the spectrum—from actress Julie Andrews, to playwright Tony Kushner, to the cast of PBS’ Sesame Street and far beyond—are making their voices heard before congress writes the federal budget, and you should, too. Locally, supporting the arts—whether it’s theater, dance, film, visual artists or music—has rarely been as important.

When I talked to iDiOM Theater founder and Sylvia Center for the Arts’ Glenn Hergenhahn-Zhao in January about the chance of the Trump administration laying waste to the NEA, he said he thinks how our country subsidizes the arts says something about who we are.

“A society that values art and arts education, that offers resources to create and perform work is sending a message that the arts are a vital part of society, that they shape who we are and how we think,” he added.

“That the city, the county, the state, the country has a role in this—just as they do in making sure there that people are fed and tended to, that they know how to read, that they have roads to drive on—changes how the public relates to art. It makes them more invested, and more a part of the ongoing inquiry into human existence. One-tenth of one percent of national funding is too little. It should be about 10 times that. Likewise at the city level, we should be investing directly in local venues and local artists much more than we are. Aside from it making the community richer and people think in more interesting ways, it is good for tourism, it is good for the economy, and good for making a populace of creative critical-thinkers that are more compassionate and less inclined to support fascists.”

Contact your congressional representatives to get your voice heard and sign the petition to keep the National Endowment for the Arts at http://www.change.org

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