Trump has declared a war on the arts. In the new administration’s goal to slash federal spending by $10.5 trillion, the National Endowment for the Arts faces the threat of total elimination. Now more than ever, the arts serve an important tool in mending our nation’s political and social divisions. Although Trump will actively attempt to defund the arts, communities must make a concerted effort to unite behind projects.
The NEA, established by President Lyndon B. Johnson in the ’60s, has long catalyzed artists’ creation with multiple programs. The agency is founded on the principle that art is an important foundation of American society, which upholds democracy and stimulates the economy. As a whole, NEA argues that our country and culture thrive with an appreciation for the arts, and recognizes that our nation’s well-being is best ensured by promoting individuals’ and communities’ rights to explore creativity.
By issuing 145,000 grants since its inception, NEA supports artists in visual, digital, performing and literary mediums. Most of these funds are administered via state and local programs, a testament to the organization’s strong community focus. Low-income schools also benefit from NEA support, which has been proven to improve students’ achievement and prospects later on in life. The effects on everyday lives are tangible in our own community. With help from the NEA, the Austin Film Society and the Blanton Museum of Art, among others, are both able to share perspective and culture with Austin. On our own 40 Acres, the Visual Arts Center received a $4,500 donation to make a Latin-American art exhibit possible.
From a purely numerical standpoint, the Trump administration’s announcement has disastrous implications. The arts accounted for 4.2 percent of American GDP in 2013, and while that is not a huge chunk of our livelihood, weakening this sector of the economy can’t be good news. Furthermore, a decreased emphasis on the arts will stifle innovation. The emerging trend in STEM fields to incorporate arts (resulting in the acronym STEAM) acknowledges what is only increasingly obvious — the creativity and critical thinking that the arts encourage are paramount to the growth of science and technology. If Trump believes in maintaining America’s role as a forward thinker in the global economy, he should be capitalizing on the arts’ ability to catalyze innovation, not actively inhibiting it.
The arts are crucial to improving the tense democratic climate the election exacerbated. Concerning the arts in Austin, Trish Connelly, an event organizer with the Nothing Song who recently spearheaded the Art Trump Hate benefit, believes that “in light of this election, art allows us to express our sadness, anger, fear, and confusion in the best way that some of us know how — whether through stories and words, painting and illustration, singing and music.”
“The arts allow varying voices to be heard and expressed through a variety of mediums and channels a way to connect one another… (they) remain an important factor to process our emotions and build something new and creative to extend to our neighbors, community, and beyond.” While the arts’ unifying nature that Connelly speaks of would certainly help Trump bring the country together, defunding them hurts his case even more.
Despite this attack on the NEA, it is important for communities to come together and support the arts on a local level. Although funding is important, it can be as simple as taking a trip to Spiderhouse Ballroom for a poetry slam or seeing a bluegrass show on Red River. It is the small gestures such as these that will help us make the best out of the next four years.
Larcher is a Plan II and Economics freshman from Austin. Follow her on twitter @veg_lomein