Arts and humanities educators are calling for renewed support for their fields following reports that President Donald Trump’s administration is considering scrapping the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities—a move that advocates say would be both a practical and symbolic loss for education.
The Washington-based newspaper The Hill reported last month that administration advisers were considering getting rid of the endowments, which were both founded in 1965 and have been targets of budget-cutting attempts by conservatives for many years.
Each organization received about $148 million in fiscal year 2016.
The NEH spent about $13 million on K-12 and higher education programs, such as summer seminars for teachers and the teaching resource website EDSITEment!, in 2016. The NEA awarded $5.8 million in direct grants for pre-K-12 education that year and supported local programs and national initiatives like the Arts Education Partnership, which focuses on research, policy, and practice. Both endowments’ other grants and programs also support education: For instance, the NEA supports state arts agencies, many of which make their own grants for teachers or arts organizations with education outreach.
Arts and humanities groups rallied to raise awareness of the wide array of programs supported by the endowments while reminding members that the president has not yet commented on his plans for them.
The National Humanities Alliance asked members to voice their support for the NEH and prepare for an advocacy day in March. The organization’s associate director, Beatrice Gurwitz, said, “We’re concerned but optimistic that the support we’ve seen in Congress will hold.”
The National Dance Education Oganization and Educational Theatre Association sent letters to members outlining the ways the arts endowment supports their fields. “We wanted to give our membership the tools to help them speak in an intelligent way and educate people who don’t know what kind of impact the NEA has on everyday people,” said Susan McGreevy-Nichols, the dance group’s executive director.
The theater association’s letter reminded members that it would take an act of Congress to eliminate the endowments. At the same time, “it’s frightening, and we’re very concerned,” said Jim Palmarini, the group’s director of educational policy. He said any changes to the arts endowment would be felt most in communities with the least access to arts programs, where the organization has targeted its recent efforts. Both agencies support efforts in every congressional district.
The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank whose budget guidelines are reported to have informed administration officials, has recommended eliminating both the arts endowment and the humanities endowment for decades. In a report recommending cuts to the budget for 2017, the foundation describes the NEH as a “neither necessary or proper activity for the federal government” and the NEA as a “neither necessary nor prudent” use of federal funds.
The agencies are funded through April 2017 by a continuing resolution.
Carol Peters, director of NEH’s education division, declined to discuss potential budget cuts, noting instead that her group has been “privileged to be able to foster conversations among teachers ... as they deepen their expertise on topics ranging from Native American histories to Shakespeare.”
From the arts endowment, spokeswoman Elizabeth Auclair said in an email that her group is looking forward to the “usual budget process.”
The administration has one potential ally for the arts: Karen Pence, the wife of Vice President Mike Pence, is a painter and teacher who championed arts education in Indiana.
But Trump’s aggressive action on other issues in the weeks since his inauguration has spurred arts and humanities communities to take the threat seriously.
“If they take away the NEA and NEH, you have countless educators across the country who suddenly are being told that, from a national perspective, their work has no visibility or value,” said Steven Seidel, the director of the Arts in Education program at Harvard University. Seidel said that despite the endowments’ relatively small budgets, they impact the direction and quality of programs nationwide.
Joseph Rodriguez, a professor of literature and literacy at the University of Texas at El Paso, said he benefited as a student and teacher from NEH’s summer seminars for teachers. “As a citizen, as a taxpayer, and as a benefactor, I see its value,” he said. “We need to keep the humanities alive.”
A version of this article appeared in the February 08, 2017 edition of Education Week as Arts, Humanities Endowments Fear Possible Budget Cuts