art funds

NEA, NEH and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting Slated for Elimination


President Trump just released his FY18 budget proposal and, as had been rumored, the package would completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The NEA, in particular, has been a bete noire for many conservatives since the 1980s when a series of controversial exhibitions, particularly those featuring work by Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano, angered Republican members of Congress.

Although the exhibitions reviled by conservatives constituted a vanishingly small portion of the NEA budget, the agency has struggled to stave off their anger. The elimination of the NEA likely has more to do with symbolism than fiscal prudence, as the total funding of both agencies amounts to a rounding error in the federal budget. As far as symbolism is concerned, it is worth noting that the NEA had already been physically displaced from its former home in the building which has now become a Trump hotel. Moreover, the cost of redecorating the hotel significantly exceeded the entire annual NEA budget.

Unfortunately, the largest impact of destroying the NEA will likely be felt in areas outside the nation's metropolitan centers, whose public museums and private galleries will survive. In recent years, the NEA has increasingly focussed on supporting community projects in parts of the country that have few cultural resources, providing funding for projects radio stations in rural areas, community-based theater companies and programs for returning veterans.

As President Trump relies heavily on family and personal relationships in his decision-making, some had hoped that advocates for the arts with access to the President might have provided some protections for the endowments. Karen Pence, the wife of the Vice President, is an advocate for art therapy and a longtime painter. Ivanka Trump is a serious collector of contemporary art whose collection includes works by Richard Prince, Christopher Wool, David Ostrowski and many others. During the presidential transition, Mr. Trump himself seemed to evince some interest in the NEA when he reportedly offered his friend Sylvester Stallone a chance to run the endowment. Stallone, a long-time painter whose work has been widely exhibited, was reportedly flattered but declined the offer.

As the budget proposal moves through Congress, there is still a chance that funding for the endowments could be restored. Many arts organizations are already mobilizing support. However, the endowments themselves, legally barred from lobbying, cannot advocate for their own survival.

No More Federal Funding for the Arts?

Trump poster in Iowa

Leaked details regarding the Trump Administration's planned budget proposal suggest that the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting are all on the chopping block. The NEH and NEA reportedly will be terminated and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting sold off.

In terms of the federal budget, it has been well documented that the support for the arts makes up a vanishingly small portion of the federal budget (less than .001% annually).

De-funding the NEA and NEH have long been a goal of some conservative members of Congress, who consistently point to a handful of controversial exhibitions that received some NEA funding. However, the NEA provides thousands of grants to recipients across the nation, including to many areas where citizens have little local access to cultural resources.

As Graham Bowley of the NYT notes, the NEA and NEH had already taken significant hits even before Trump's election, having been evicted from their offices to make way for the Trump Hotel in Washington, DC. In an apt sign of the times, renovation of the Trump Hotel cost over USD $200 million, which exceeds the entire budgets of the NEA and NEH combined.

President-Elect Trump's Budget Plan Eliminates National Endowments for the Arts

the hill

The Hill reported the broad outlines of President-Elect Trump's budget plan today, which includes a USD $10.5 trillion dollar decrease in government spending over the next decades. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting would be privatized, and the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities completely eliminated.

Art Fund Liabilities

artsy article image

Anny Shaw has an interesting examination of the current state of art funds. Although the article suggests that there has been a "proliferation" of art funds in recent years, the field has actually been shrinking. Whereas the "financialization" of art continues apace in other areas -- such as the growth of fine art collateral-based lending -- interest in art funds has largely evaporated. In truth, the concept has several significant drawbacks. Some have to do with the structural features of the market-- particularly the lack of liquidity. The model also overlooks the various ways that collectors derive value from their art. In addition to financial gains at re-sale, collectors enjoy the reputational and social benefits of having an impressive collection (and some even like to look at their artworks!). Art funds reduce the benefits of ownership (actually, fractional ownership) to only a monetary rate of return. For individuals who have the resources to purchase significant works of art and the financial savvy to consider art funds, it makes much more sense to actually collect -- even if prospective financial gain is a key motivation.