No, Melania’s Security Costs Don’t Equal the NEA Budget—But Here Are Some Things That Do

Museum skylights, a rapper's net worth, and a First Lady's libel damages all compare.

U.S. First Lady Melania Trump sits in the Oval Office during a meeting between President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images.
U.S. First Lady Melania Trump sits in the Oval Office during a meeting between President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Photo Andrew Harrer-Pool/Getty Images.

With funding for the National Endowment for the Arts under threat, rank-and-file culturati are speaking out. One meme making the rounds on Facebook, originating with Bomb magazine staffer Ryan Chapman, consists of a simple, disturbing claim: The estimated security cost of Melania Trump remaining in New York is double the annual budget for the NEA.

The meme touches a certain nerve, and has become pervasive enough that Snopes, the respected fact-checking site, looked into Chapman’s figures and found them impossible to verify, giving it a final assessment of “undetermined.”

The numbers, per Snopes, are these: The NEA’s budget last year was $148 million. Snopes quotes Police Commissioner James P. O’Neill saying that, in the worst case scenario, the security costs to New York would total just over $60 million a year.

So it seems that Chapman’s post was way off, though that didn’t stop 46,000 people from retweeting it.

Of course, $60 million is not chump change. If Melania’s NYC security costs $127,000 to $146,000 a day, that is more than the NEA gave out to any arts organization in the United States last year. Most annual grants are between $10,000 and $100,000, weighted towards the lower end.

Clearly, though, this viral bit of fake news does touch on something real concerning national priorities in the new era. Here, then, are some other topical things that are roughly equal to the NEA budget, as fodder for future memes:

metmuseum-new-european-gallery

One of the Metropolitan Museum’s newly reinstalled and renovate European Paintings galleries.
Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

1. The Met’s skylights
New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art is scaling back some of its grander ambitions, like a pricey new $600 million wing. Instead, interim chief executive Daniel H. Weiss says the institution will have to make do with getting excited about maintenance of the museum’s 1930s skylights, a “decidedly unsexy” task that nevertheless just about equals the current NEA budget.

Cost to replace leaky museum skylights: $140 million.

Screenshot of the <em>Daily Mail</em> story that became the subject of a $150 million lawsuit.

Daily Mail story that became the subject of a $150 million lawsuit.

2. Melania Trump’s reputation
London tabloid the Daily Mail ran a story saying Melania Trump once worked for an escort agency. According to a lawsuit filed last month by the First Lady, the false claims caused her to lose out on a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity… to launch a broad-based commercial brand in multiple product categories, each of which could have garnered multi-million dollar business relationships for a multi-year term.”

Damages sought: $150 million.

Rachel Maddow unveiling Trump's 2005 tax returns.

Rachel Maddow unveiling Trump’s 2005 tax returns.

3. Donald Trump’s 2005 income 
Rachel Maddow’s breathless unveil of Trump’s 2005 tax returns may have been a particularly embarrassing TV non-event—but it did prove that The Donald could, at one point at least, have paid for the US arts budget all by himself.

Donald Trump’s income from 2005: $150 million.

Pablo Picasso, Les Femme d’Algers (Version “O”), 1955. Courtesy Christie's.

Pablo Picasso, Les Femme d’Algers (Version “O”), 1955. Photo: Courtesy Christie’s.

4. One painting
Two years ago, Pablo Picasso‘s Les Femme d’Algers (Version “O”) (1955) became the most expensive work of art ever sold at auction. Which means that the trophy allowance of one still-anonymous buyer not just equals, but dwarfs, the US’s federal arts allocation.

Price: $179.4 million.

President-elect Donald Trump and Kanye West stand together in the lobby at Trump Tower, December 13, 2016 in New York City. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

President-elect Donald Trump and Kanye West stand together in the lobby at Trump Tower, December 13, 2016 in New York City. Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images.

5. Kanye West’s net worth
Rapper/producer/designer Kanye West infamously swung by Trump Tower in December, during the pre-inauguration transition, with Trump saying that the two had “been friends for a long time.” As it so happens, the number-crunchers at CelebrityNetWorth.com say that West’s net worth is in the NEA ballpark, though, like Trump, West’s finances remain far from clear.

Ye’s net worth: $145 million.


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