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Trump’s Budget Is An Assault On America’s Creative Soul

It’s petty, political, and dangerous.

Trump’s Budget Is An Assault On America’s Creative Soul
Photo: Pool/Getty Images Photo: Pool/Getty Images

The Trump administration recently submitted its 2018 budget proposal to Congress. As predicted, there are deep cuts to virtually every department. Some of the hardest hit? The EPA (down 31%), the State Department (down 29%), and the USDA (down 21%), and the Department of Health and Human Services (down 18%).

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The negative consequences to public health, food safety, rural development, and the environment could be dire. But what really stings is the elimination of arts and science programs. Gutting the National Endowment of the Arts and National Endowment of the Humanities–which represent just 0.02% of the overall budget–is not a cost-saving measure. It’s a petty political vendetta that’s symbolically undermining the creative soul of America.

As Co.Design outlined in January, when rumors of defunding the NEA and NEH first broke, eliminating these agencies is an incredibly stupid idea. The NEA funds local community building, educational programs, job training, housing, and more. In 2016, the NEA recommended funding to organizations in every single congressional district in the country. Moreover, NEA funds generate even more money for the programs they finance. Every dollar of NEA direct funding leverages up to an additional $9 from private and other public sources, resulting in $500 million in matching support in 2016. This is federal money that actually makes more money.

Photo: Bloomberg/Getty Images

Historically, the NEA has also funded practical projects that contribute to smoother operations throughout the country. As a result of an NEA program, the AIGA and Department of Transportation collaborated on signage standards that still appear virtually everywhere, from airports to highway signs and train stations. When Richard Nixon–of all presidents!–mandated that good design should be federal policy in the 1970s, some of the subsequent branding and identity systems led to more efficient operations and more beautiful and legible graphics. Plus, the NEA contributed to better governmental architecture across the country. In the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, the NEA was a matchmaker between architects and HUD’s Rebuild by Design resiliency competition, which is responsible for nearly a billion dollars worth of recovery efforts.

“Today we learned that the president’s FY 2018 budget blueprint proposes the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts. We are disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals of all ages in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every congressional district in the nation,” NEA chairman Jane Chu said in a statement about the budget.

Eliminating the NEA and NEH squashes so much potential to make our cities and towns more robust, livable, vibrant, and exciting. And those aren’t the only agencies with a creative mandate that could go extinct if Congress approves Trump’s budget. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which has a $445 million budget and supports public radio and television like PBS and NPR, is slated for defunding. The Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), a $230 million agency that funds libraries and museums across the country, could also get the axe.

In a statement about the 2018 budget, the IMLS said: “We’ve invested in rural and smaller communities by supporting basic infrastructure and the development of libraries as local community hubs for broadband connectivity and digital literacy training, which has helped hundreds of residents gain job-related skills and, in many cases, find employment. In summary, our grants and programs support libraries and museums as essential contributors to improving Americans’ quality of life.”

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Creativity is the currency of the arts and culture industry, but education and research in scientific fields fuels many creative breakthroughs. NASA, which is facing a relatively small cut, would lose its Education office, a segment of the agency responsible for camps and enrichment programs for children, women, and underrepresented minorities. The Department of Education is facing a $9.2 billion cut that would significantly reduce work-study programs for college students. The State Department’s budget cuts spell reduced funding for cultural exchange programs.

While the situation seems dire, there are actions all of us can take to persuade Congress to reject Trump’s budget proposals and let them know how much the arts matter. A #SavetheNEA Twitter tag and petitions are mobilizing people online. Meanwhile, the Arts Action Fund shared an easy tool for composing a message to your representatives:

The budgeting process is a long one–and just because Trump wants to kill entire agencies doesn’t mean he’ll get to. Let your congressional representatives know the arts, humanities, and creativity are important before it’s too late.

About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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