Yesterday, the Trump administration revealed a proposed budget that would reduce NEA funding to zero. The organization had requested a budget of $150 million.
The NEA is accustomed to unpredictable funding swings and steep cuts, most notably in the 1990s, when federal arts-and-humanities agencies were in the GOP crosshairs. (Big Bird even made an appearance on The Hill to plead for money.)
But the complete and total elimination of the NEA and other agencies will have a significant impact on new and established arts groups throughout the Bay Area.
In the past year-and-a-half, for instance, 34 groups and artists in Oakland and Berkeley were granted more than $1.2 million in funding from the NEA.
“People are a little bit shocked, to say the least,” said Brent Cunningham, operations director at Small Press Distribution Inc., which was founded in 1969 and operates as an umbrella distributor for more than 400 publishers and writers, many of whom receive NEA grans themselves.
Cunningham says he’s the numbers guy at Small Press, where he’s worked for 18 years. The group employs a twelve people with an annual budget of approximately $1 million. Under Trump’s proposal, Small Press would face at 10 percent budget hit.
“How the removal of that money will impact us is hard to predict, but it’s surely not good,” he told the Express.
He and others that the Express spoke to anticipated deep cuts to the NEA and other national arts groups under Trump. But the elimination of the Endowment came as a surprise to many.
“It’s one thing to strip an agency down, that’s draconian enough,” is how Cunningham put it.
The destruction of the NEA will have a domino effect on other arts benefactors and funding sources, including the California Arts Council, which funnels NEA money to state groups and also doles out its own grants. Many of the 34 East Bay groups and artists who receive NEA grants also got money for the CAC.
The NEA also helps inform private donors of worthy arts groups seeking funding, since the Endowment conducts significant research to determine its grant recipients.
Local groups that received NEA grants for 2016 and 2017 include Berkeley Repertory Theatre, National Film Preserve (part of Telluride Film Festival), the Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, Berkeley Symphony Orchestra, California Shakespeare Theater, Youth Radio, the David Brower Center, Axis Dance Company, Destiny Arts Center, Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Oakland Museum of California, Pro Arts, and Project Bandaloop.
There’s still hope that the arts community will be able to lobby Congress members to salvage the NEA funds. Jobs are on the line, of course.
Lori Fogarty, the director and CEO of the Oakland Museum of California, released a statement this afternoon, reminding that Trump’s budget still has to make it through the House and Senate, “where there has been strong bipartisan support for many years.”
“Should these agencies come under serious threat within the House of Representatives or Senate, we will alert OMCA Members and other constituencies and ask for your direct assistance in speaking to our legislators,” Fogarty wrote.
So, basically, the gloves are off in the arts community.
“We’re in a fight now,” Cunningham said.