WASHINGTON ― Arts organizations won a major victory this week with increases for arts funding in the congressional budget agreement ― a rebuke of President Donald Trump’s proposal to gut federal support.
The bill to keep the government operating until September, expected to pass both chambers of Congress later this week, allocates $150 million each to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities ― $2 million more than the previous year. It preserves the current level of funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.
The Trump administration in March proposed gutting funding for the three entities, prompting arts groups around the country to lobby lawmakers and hold rallies. Congress’ budget agreement also increased funding for science research, another area where Trump proposed deep cuts.
Many of Trump’s proposals, including funding for a border wall, his signature campaign issue, were not included in the bill, reflecting limited bargaining power on Capitol Hill that contradicts his assertion that he “makes the best deals.”
Republican lawmakers likely would have faced consequences going along with Trump’s arts cuts because federal funds provide significant financial support in small towns and rural areas — places that tend to vote for the GOP.
The NEA budget, for example, funds grants that pay for arts organizations, cultural groups and projects in every single congressional district. As arts groups told HuffPost in March, those grants are often among the only sources of financing for the arts in rural parts of the country because there are fewer private sources of arts funding than in large, metropolitan communities.
Similarly, television and radio stations in rural areas would be hit hardest by cuts to public broadcasting funding.
Patrick Butler, president and CEO of America’s Public Television Stations, said in a statement Monday that the budget deal shows “powerful evidence of the growing bipartisan support for our work in education, public safety and civic leadership.” He added: “We are particularly appreciative of the leadership of the House and Senate Appropriations Committees for being such stalwart champions of public broadcasting.”
But arts organizations warned on Monday that their victory could be short lived. Republicans frequently target arts funding in budget negotiations, arguing that initiatives like the NEA are wasteful. The NEA, NEH and CPB made up a combined 0.02 percent of the federal budget last year.
“When you start looking at places that we reduce spending, one of the questions we asked was can we really continue to ask a coal miner in West Virginia or a single mom in Detroit to pay for these programs? The answer was no,” White House budget director Mick Mulvaney said in March. “We can ask them to pay for defense, and we will, but we can’t ask them to continue to pay for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.”
Actors’ Equity, the union that represents stage actors and managers around the country, advocated against Trump’s cuts by focusing on the role that community and regional theater plays in providing jobs and economic development in smaller cities and towns.
“We won an important battle this week, but the war is far from over,” the union’s executive director, Mary McColl, said in a statement. “Next year could look very different. When Congress starts work on the next budget, Equity’s talented members and elected leaders will be there to remind Congress that any cuts to the NEA would undermine middle class arts jobs in every congressional district in the country.”