In Defense of Arts Funding

Dinah Cardin

“Each day, 4.8 million Americans go to work in Arts and Culture industries. In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis, the Arts contributed $730 billion to our GDP—which is larger than Construction, Transportation, and Travel & Tourism.” –

Cultural institutions across the country are reeling from news that the White House plans to slash or eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, as well as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

The arts play a critical role in today’s economy and also support the rising creative and innovation-based economy.Here at PEM, the museum employs more than 250 staff members and each year welcomes 250,000 visitors, including thousands of cultural tourists whose estimated expenditures inject over $8 million a year into the local economy.

In honor of Art Advocacy Day, we are posting a letter from PEM’s executive director and CEO, Dan Monroe about the vital importance of the arts in our society which will appear in the next issue of our Connections members’ magazine.

PEM’s upcoming exhibition, Ocean Liners: Glamour, Speed, and Style, is supported in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. (Detail of: Artist in United Kingdom, Cunard U.S.A., 1925, color lithograph. Collection of Stephen S. Lash. © 2016 Peabody Essex Museum. Photo by Stephen Petegorsky.)

Dear Members,

The Trump administration recently announced plans to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. The rationale to eliminate federal investment in these agencies is to cut “wasteful” government spending.

NEA and NEH provide federal support to thousands of art and humanities organizations nationwide. The budget for NEA comprises 0.003 percent of total federal spending. This is equal to $146 million. The budget for NEH is the same. The budget for the CPB is 0.01 percent of the total federal budget or $445 million. If one created a pie chart and graphed the combined budgets for these agencies as a part of the total federal budget, it would consist of a line that would be nearly impossible to see.

Forty percent of the NEA and NEH budgets are delivered directly to state art and humanities agencies for distribution to nonprofit organizations, many of which are small organizations heavily reliant on federal project grants to carry out their missions. NEH and NEA funding goes to virtually every congressional district.

NEA, NEH and CPB are targeted because many members of Congress and various groups believe the arts and humanities have little or no bearing on the well-being of Americans or the future of the nation. Similar sentiments have led to dramatic reductions in the role of the arts and humanities in public education.

Many decades ago public education sought to create well-rounded and informed citizens who would be the bulwarks of American democracy. Now the purpose of public education is to strive to assure students excel on standardized tests that purport to measure learning.

While economic development, science and technology and national defense are essential to America’s future, so, too, are the arts and humanities. It is important to know American and world history. It is essential to learn how to think critically about cultural values. Familiarity with creative expression in the arts and humanities provides a window through which to view past and present human experience.

Eliminating NEA, NEH and CPB will not eradicate the arts and humanities in America. But eliminating the extremely small federal investment in these agencies will further weaken the role of the arts and humanities in American life and reinforce the view that the arts and humanities are a waste of money, whether federal or private.

“Every day the arts transform America’s communities through education, community development, economic impact, helping at-risk youth, health and wellness, celebrating diversity, building a creative workforce, environment, crime prevention, tourism, returning military and veterans, neighborhood revitalization, political action, infrastructure, activism, and faith.” –

We want to hear from you. Leave your thoughts on why the arts matter to you below in the comments section or on social media using the hashtag #ArtsAdvocacy

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