Will Donald Trump and the U.S. Congress Defund the National Endowment for the Arts?

President Donald J. Trump
President Donald J. Trump

By Mark McLaren, Editor in Chief, February 21, 2017

The Trump administration is moving quickly on the agenda it voiced during its presidential campaign. And while organizations like Planned Parenthood are girding for a budget fight, not-for-profit arts and culture institutions across the U.S. are wondering when the National Endowment for the Arts budget gets the ax.

The White House has not stated directly its intentions for the National Endowment for the Arts or for its sister, the National Endowment for the Humanities. But word is that funding for these institutions is on the chopping block. Conservatives have had the programs in their sight for years, and Republican control of the Congress and White House makes this eventuality a serious potentiality.

If that is the case, a significant resource for thousands of U.S. institutions, large and small, across every U.S. congressional district, will vanish.

Fiscal year 2016 funding for NEA and NEH is about $296 million, or seven one-thousandths of one percent (0.007%) of the annual federal budget. (If you add the $445 million that the federal government provides to operate the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the share of the total budget rises to two one-hundredths of one percent (0.02%), but I’ll let Big Bird and Judy Woodruff argue the importance of federal funding of television).

During this time, National Endowment for the Arts grants went to organizations in 16,000 different communities, and 30% of funding was directed to organizations with budgets below $350,000. Each dollar appropriated by the NEA drew an additional $3.40 in matching private funding for not-for-profit organizations. And for every new job generated within the not-for-profit arts and culture space, an additional 1.69 jobs are created outside the industry. Jobs in hospitality, transportation, services, media, manufacturing and more.

According to Americans for the Arts 2010 Economic Prosperity IV report, U.S. not-for-profit arts and culture organizations employed, full-time, more than 2.2 million people and insured the employment of an additional 1.9 million people outside of the industry. So the U.S. not-for-profit arts and culture industry accounts for more than four million full-time jobs in the United States.

President Trump has enthusiastically reported saving U.S. jobs. In December the president-elect announced that Carrier Corporation agreed to keep 1,000 jobs (this figure is disputed) in Indiana in exchange for about $7 million in state tax credits. So while saving Carrier Corporation jobs cost about $7,000 each, protecting each of the 2.2 million full-time jobs in the U.S. not-for-profit arts and culture industry currently costs about $135.

Looking at the U.S. arts and culture industry in total, it contributed $698 billion (4.3% of GDP) to the U.S. economy in 2012. In 2013, the U.S. nonprofit arts industry generated $22 billion in federal, state and local tax revenues annually. The arts accounts for 2.2% of the total U.S. workforce, and on an average day, 1.4 million Americans attend an arts performance.

In a time when trade deficits fill headlines and twitter feeds, the United States enjoys a $25 billion trade surplus in the world exchange of arts and culture commodities. I’m not an economist, but I am guessing that such a trade surplus is rare.

So to quote a phrase, “arts matter.”

Editor’s Note: This is the first in a series of ZEALnyc articles reporting on politics and the arts.

Data analyzed in this article is found here:


Mark McLaren, ZEALnyc‘s Editor in Chief, writes frequently on classical music and theater.

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