Despite Trump’s Best Efforts, NEA Lives to See Another Day—and Even Gets a Funding Increase

Under a new budget agreement for 2017, the NEA, the NEH, and the Smithsonian all receive modest funding boosts.

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order. Photo by Andrew Harrer— Pool/Getty Images.
U.S. President Donald Trump speaks before signing an executive order. Photo by Andrew Harrer— Pool/Getty Images.

The worst fears of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) came to pass in March, when President Donald Trump announced his intentions to defund both the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in his proposed budget for the federal government.

Like many of Trump’s planned initiatives for his first 100 days in office, however, this plan did not pan out. Under the budget agreement passed by Congress today, NEA and NEH funding will continue, for the time being—and even enjoy a modest increase compared to 2016 levels.

In an effort to avoid a government shut down for the second time in four years, Congress reached a bipartisan agreement on a proposed $1 trillion budget that will fund the government through the end of the fiscal year on September 30. The budget, which was finalized on April 30, must be officially approved by lawmakers by May 5. It follows an eleventh-hour, one-week spending measure passed April 28, averting a shutdown the following day.

The US House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations has released a summary of the new 2017 budget, which includes—surprisingly—good news for the arts and culture sector. The budget allocates $150 million each for the NEA and NEH, which marks a $2 million increase respectively from 2016. A spokesperson from the NEA told artnet News: “Congress is expected to pass this bill later in the week, and the President is expected to sign it.”

The Institute of Museum and Library Services, also targeted by Trump for elimination, will see a small increase in its annual funding, from $230 million to $231 million. While funding for the Smithsonian Institution was not on the chopping block, its 2017 budget will also increase, to $863 million, up $23 million from last year. (It is worth noting that not all of these funding increases outpaced the annual rate of inflation, which stood at 2.4% in March, according to the Labor Department.)

Reporting on the budget, the New York Times noted that the final agreement pointed to “the reluctance of lawmakers to bend to Mr. Trump’s spending priorities, like his desire for sharp cuts to domestic programs.”

Also notably missing from the bill? Funding for Trump’s much-hyped border wall between the US and Mexico. And while Trump called for sharp cuts to medical research and green energy programs, the budget will instead increase federal spending in those areas. (Planned Parenthood also escaped unscathed.) The Los Angeles Times called the budget an “embarrassment to the White House.”

“Early on in this debate, Democrats clearly laid out our principles,” Senator Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said in a statement. “At the end of the day, this is an agreement that reflects those principles.”

The arts community was outspoken in its opposition to Trump’s efforts to defund the NEA and NEH. Artists including Jasper JohnsMarina Abramović, and Julian Schnabel were among the hundreds of thousands who signed a petition from PEN America calling on the government to save the two organizations. Several Republican politicians also came out in favor of federal support for the cultural organizations in recent weeks.

It remains to be seen whether the NEA and NEH will be spared in the next budget. But at least for now, they can breathe a sign of relief.


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