Free the artists from government subsidies

  • 16 February 2018
  • NormanL
The Benjamins are waiting

There is much to criticize in the President's budget plan, not the least of which is its freewheeling, trillion dollar deficits. But amidst the fiscal carnage, there are a few worthy nuggets, including the proposal to drastically cut federal subsidies for the arts and humanities.

Conservatives have long targeted these small, but egregious, giveaways, with little success. But even the possibility of a cut in arts funding has sent the usual suspect into orbit:

...the White House revealed its 2019 budget proposal, and just like last year, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) are on the chopping block. The déjà vu continues with the call for also eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), among other programs. President Donald Trump’s budget proposal includes a spending increase for the military, border security, and the ongoing opioid crisis, with his proposed budget for defense in 2019 swelling to a whopping $716 billion.

Although it’s Congress that passes the federal budget each year, and the president’s recommendations are merely that, this is the second year in a row that Trump has called for the elimination of the NEA and NEH. Trump’s 2019 “Major Savings and Reforms” document calls for slashing the NEA’s budget from $150 million in 2017 to $29 million in 2019. The NEH would similarly be cut down from $150 million in 2017 to $42 million in 2019.

Not zeroed out, mind you, just cut. But even that is too much for the arts community, which craves its federal pork as much as every other special interest group.

But what would happen if we decided to end the handouts? Would the arts vanish? Hardly. The private sector provides billions to the arts every year. And the total keeps getting bigger:

According to Charity Navigator, "total giving to charitable organizations was $390.05 billion in 2016 (2.1% of GDP). This is an increase of 2.7% in current dollars and 1.4% in inflation-adjusted dollars from 2015." Those figures are the most recent and for the arts, things are better still: "Arts, Culture and Humanities saw an increase of 6.4% to $18.21 billion."

And that $18 billion is just for charity aimed at the arts. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average American spends around $2,900 on "entertainment," a category that includes movies, museums, concerts, and the like. Whether the NEA gets cut to $29 million next year or stays at $150 million doesn't really matter when you consider the amount of money we're willing to shell out for concerts, plays, galleries, you name it. I can sympathize with individual groups and artists who might see their funding cut, but that's not the same as saying the arts will suffer.

Because the arts will not suffer. What will suffer are those who have geared their fundraising operations to securing and maintaining federal (meaning taxpayer) support.

Artists should not want, let alone seek and actively defend, government patronage. That path leads to censorship, which the arts community has long said is the greatest foe of creative expression.

So we urge the Congress to free the artists, liberate the writers, and release the poets. Lift the heavy bonds of government oversight from their creativity, and let them thrive -- unfettered -- in the private sector. It's a win for them, and for the taxpayers.