What is the NEA?
By partnering with state and federal agencies as well as local leaders and the philanthropic sector, the NEA promotes equal access to the arts and cultural heritage of the United States for all. Since 1965 the NEA has awarded more than $5 billion towards the arts in America, including grants, partnerships, honors and awards, research, and funding.
Each year, the NEA puts forth its annual report which reviews the past fiscal year including its activities and fund usage and allocations. For example, in 2017 the NEA responded to devastating natural disasters in Florida, Texas, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands by providing close to $1 million in financial aid to state art agencies and nonprofit arts organizations in those areas, assessing damage and consulting for solutions and rebuilding. They also released publications to offer assistance to the art fields, such as How to Do Creative Placemaking and other instructional essays, and produced and released documentary films to support the field of filmmaking. Moreover, they funded partnerships through grants, including fellowships and awards, as well as programs such as the NEA Military Healings arts program.
Approximately 40 percent of NEA supported activities took place in neighborhoods that are considered high poverty, and 13 percent in rural neighborhoods, both of which have limited access to the arts.
The NEA’s place in the National Budget
President Trump has recently unveiled his budget for the 2020 fiscal year, which is the largest recorded in federal history, and totals $4.75 trillion. In the administration’s full proposal, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities are set to be eliminated, a move for which the president has previously shown support since 2017. According to the projected plan, the NEA’s budget is set at $29 million, which the president believes is a sufficient amount of funding to terminate all its operations over the course of two years. According to artnet News, it would cost about one quarter of the agency’s annual budget only to shut down. Neither the NEA nor the NEH are considered by Trump’s administration to be vital to core Federal responsibilities. Nevertheless, the NEA is continuing to operate as normal, carrying on with grant awards and honoring its current and planned obligations, as well as accepting grant applications through their usual 2020 deadlines. The budget has not yet been accepted by congress and will likely go through myriad changes and revisions by various law and policy makers. The budget, as it stands, is an indicator of the current administration’s political priorities.
Because Federal agencies such as the NEA are not at liberty to advocate for their budget through lobbying or participating in lawmaking, they can only educate the nation about their goals, role and impact on the country’s arts and cultural sector. Additionally, congress sets the level of appropriations for the Arts Endowment, and therefore donated funds, if they are even accepted, cannot be used to supplement grant making. Ergo the NEA encourages those who wish to donate to do so in their local communities and groups that support the arts.
Based on the latest report led by the Arts and Cultural Production Satellite Account (ASPSA) and produced by the Bureau of Economic Analysis and the Office of Research and Analysis at the NEA, the arts and cultural sector plays a significant role in the economic activity of the country. Overall, it contributed 4.3 percent of the nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) in 2016, equating to $804.2 billion. In addition, the report indicates that “value-added to GDP by arts and cultural production is nearly five times greater than that of the agricultural sector. Arts and culture adds nearly $60 billion more than construction and $227 billion more than transportation and warehousing to the U.S. economy.” The report also found that the “average annual growth rate for arts and culture outperforms the growth rate of the total U.S. economy. From 2014 to 2016, the average annual growth rate in the contribution of arts and culture was 4.16 percent, nearly double the 2.22 percent growth rate of the total U.S. economy.” Finally, there has been a significant increase in consumer spending for performing arts, with admissions proceeds more than doubling between 1998 and 2016.
According to the projected plan, the NEA’s budget is set at $29 million, which the president believes is a sufficient amount of funding to terminate all its operations over the course of two years. According to artnet News, it would cost about one quarter of the agency’s annual budget only to shut down.
Public Versus Private Funding for the Arts
Should the proposal for the elimination of the National Endowment of the Arts go through, the NEA states that private funding will not be enough to sustain the level of their efforts and outreach. Because the country’s charitable giving is disproportionate, many communities, especially rural ones, would not receive the same amount of aid and access as those in more urban environments, and the equitable distribution of funds and services would be very difficult to maintain. Moreover, research has shown that public funding, even in small amounts, can spur the growth and amount of private giving, often though matching of public funds with private ones.
Regardless of the outcome, whether funding is left intact, reduced, or eliminated entirely, there can only be advantages gained from the nation exploring alternative arts funding options, including private philanthropy as well as organizations and foundations dedicated to the arts. Proactive leadership regarding funding for arts and humanities is pivotal in maintaining the NEA’s current efforts, whether it continues to come from the Endowment itself or other avenues. States, cities, and municipalities may also choose to support arts programs on a smaller, more localized level, thereby taking over some of the roles and responsibilities the NEA currently handles.