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By Rachel Stoltzfoos
President Donald Trump proposed completely eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities in his first budget released Thursday.
News of the proposal caused a wave of “deep fear” to pass through the arts community, as people realized their cherished funding might actually be cut off, reports The New York Times. While Republicans have proposed eliminating the endowments before, the party has never been in such a strong position to actually follow through and shut them down.
“A deep fear came to pass for many artists, museums, and cultural organizations nationwide early Thursday morning,” the dramatic first sentence of The New York Times report on the proposal begins.
Trump is the first president to propose closing down the agencies since they were created in 1965 by Lyndon B. Johnson, who said it’s crucial for civilized nations to value the arts and humanities. Although funds for the endowments make up a tiny fraction of the federal government’s $1 trillion budget, the some $300 million they receive annually is certainly a hefty sum.
The endowments are cherished in particular by progressives who believe the government should make sure arts and humanities thrive in the country, while they’ve long drawn ire from conservatives who see it as a waste of tax dollars. Critics often point out strange or bizarre uses of the money, such as one government-funded artist who took a picture of a crucifix submerged in a jar of his own urine, or the time the endowments sent several puppeteers’ on a trip to Mexico for a three-day conference.
The president’s budget typically serves as more of a statement of priorities than anything else, since Congress is ultimately responsible for drafting and passing its own budget. Nevertheless, the arts community is worried, given the immense power Republicans have in controlling both the White House and Congress.
“We are greatly saddened to learn of this proposal for elimination, as N.E.H. has made significant contributions to the public good,” William Adams, chairman of the humanities endowment, said in a statement.