One day ahead of President-elect Donald J. Trump’s inauguration comes news that members of his transition team have been preparing dramatic budget cuts that would eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Hill reports that doing so would be part of a general trend under the Trump administration, which is reportedly seeking to cut federal spending by about $10.5 trillion over the next ten years.
Since 2009, under the Obama administration, the NEA’s budget has remained largely the same, hovering somewhere around $146 million a year. Currently, the NEA occupies about 0.003 percent of the federal budget.
The proposed budget cuts would be even more significant than those the NEA weathered during the culture wars, in the late 1980s and early ’90s, when conservative politicians responded to a wave of political art by severely reducing the NEA’s budget.
This is not the first time a U.S. president has threatened to eliminate the NEA in its entirety. In 1988, Livingston Biddle’s book Our Government and the Arts: A Perspective From the Inside revealed that Ronald Reagan also planned to do so in 1981, when he came into office, though his plans never came to pass.
Over the years, Trump has been unsupportive of the NEA. In 1999, when Chris Ofili’s controversial painting The Holy Virgin Mary (1996), which features the Virgin Mary adorned with elephant dung, was on view at the Brooklyn Museum, Trump, like many conservatives, lashed out against the NEA, despite the fact that the organization had had nothing to do with the show. “As President, I would ensure that the National Endowment of the Arts stops funding of this sort,” he told the Daily News, misstating the name of the organization. Then, in 2013, when Trump picked up the lease for the NEA’s old headquarters in order to build a hotel, he forced the NEA to move.
“The Trump Administration needs to reform and cut spending dramatically, and targeting waste like the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be a good first step in showing that the Trump Administration is serious about radically reforming the federal budget,” Brian Darling, a former aide to Rand Paul, told The Hill.
Trump has still not revealed his pick to head up the NEA under his presidency. Early reports had the name of Sylvester Stallone being floated, but the actor and painter said he would not take the job if it was offered to him. As President-elect, Trump has not made an official statement about his plans for the NEA.