Donald Trump’s first draft of the federal budget proposes eliminating various arts and humanities organizations, including PBS which is responsible for shows like Sesame Street. The kids’ show has featured several parodies of Trump, called ‘Donald Grump.’

In a move that is heartbreaking to many and shocking to none, the Trump administration has proposed detrimental budget cuts (in some cases total elimination) of federally funded arts and humanities foundations. On March 16th, “America First” – A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again was released and it includes plans to end the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA); sister agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). It would also axe federal funding for the Corporation of Public Broadcasting which supports PBS and NPR. The organizations have long provided educational television and media, including the much loved Sesame Street. In reference to the proposed cuts, Federal Budget Director Mick Mulvaney stated, ““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. 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.” An ironic statement considering that for many in rural and impoverished areas – public television channels are oftentimes the only constant source for news.

The proposed federal budget also features an increase of more than $50 billion to go towards military related matters. Currently the NEA operation budget is $146.2 million. The NEH sits at $148 million, that’s 1/21,0000th of the $4 trillion US federal budget.* Already a small number, the NEH’s budget seems even more minuscule when compared to the $640 billion that the military would round out to if Trump’s budget does go through.

The NEA was created in 1965 through an act of Congress under President Lyndon B. Johnson. It is dedicated to supporting the arts for ALL Americans by providing financial support to public institutions including public schools. Of the NEA, Johnson proclaimed, “It is in the neighborhoods of each community that a nation’s art is born. In countless American towns there live thousands of obscure and unknown talents. What this bill really does is to bring active support to this great national asset, to make fresher the winds of art in this great land of ours.” The official NEA website states, “Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America.” The NEH provides much of federal humanities funding in the United States by providing grants that “typically go to cultural institutions, such as museums, archives, libraries, colleges, universities, public television, and radio stations, and to individual scholars.”

Julie Andrews and Emma Walton, courtesy of Getty.

Many public figures including Robert Redford and Julie Andrews have written open letters and made statements in support of continuing funding for these federally funded programs. Redford names the NEA as seminal to the creation of the Sundance Film Festival while Andrews noted the research that supports the link between arts education and success later in life, for students of all economic backgrounds. In an official letter published on CNN, she and her daughter, Emma Walton, state:

“Decades worth of research attests to the fact that the arts are among the most profoundly important and valuable ways to improve learning and promote success, from early childhood through adulthood.

Indeed, according to four longitudinal studies compiled and published by the National Endowment for the Arts, young people who engage regularly with the arts are twice as likely to read for pleasure, three times more likely to win an award for attendance or be elected to class office, and four times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement or perform community service.

These students have higher grade-point averages and standardized test scores, and lower dropout rates, and they reap these benefits regardless of socioeconomic status.” -Julie Andrews & Emma Walton

The jury is out on whether celebrity political postulating helps or hinders public opinion but there may be some hope when it comes to fiscal matters. In 1981, Ronald Reagan also attempted to eliminate the NEA and NEH and later wanted to cut their funding by fifty percent. Members of a special arts and humanities task force, which included Charlton Heston and Joseph Coors of Coors Brewing, advised Reagan to reverse his thinking and the final budget preserved both agencies.

Chance the Rapper donated $1,000,000 to fund arts education in Chicago earlier this month. Image courtesy of Getty.

Unimpressed with government action regarding arts funding, some have already taken matters into their own hands and wallets. Earlier this month,  a disheartening conversation with Illinois governor Bruce Rauner about the state of Chicago’s public education led Chance the Rapper  to donate $1,000,000 to fund public arts education in the city. In NYC, institutions are rallying together to protect the organizations vital to arts education. Immediately following the budget announcement, the Met released a statement pledging to “join with arts organizations and artists nationwide and work with our supporters in Congress to see that these vital funds are maintained.”

Get involved! Send a message via American for the Arts Action Fund in support of the NEA to your representatives and click here to sign this petition to protect funding for public media. Then distract yourself while we wait for more news on the “America First” budget. Watch below to see vintage Sesame Street clips that features a less than flattering parody of a certain someone.

*figures courtesy of Quartz Media https://qz.com/936939/trumps-proposed-cuts-to-the-humanities-strike-at-the-heart-of-what-actually-makes-america-great/

-Jasmine Williams for The Untitled Magazine

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