The National Endowment for the Arts received a relatively scant $148 million in public funding in 2016. To put that in perspective, the total cost for Donald Trump's inauguration is expected to come around to a final bill of $200 million (though, it will be partially paid for through private donations). The NEA's funding is a small drop in the bucket of total government spending.
However, the NEA, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and, with all apologies to Big Bird, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting may soon lose all federal funding under the Trump administration. According to The Hill, the former two would be eliminated completely while the latter would be privatized.
Don't remember Trump promising to cut these programs on the campaign trail? You wouldn't, because he didn't.
The Trump campaign was notable for providing few details on what exactly it planned to do aside from a few key policies (the wall, et. al.). Of course in Washington, D.C. when politicians don't actually have ideas of their own there's always a think tank to provide ideas for them. The Hill reports that the Trump administration will likely use a plan laid out by the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, as its blueprint despite the fact the plan has little in common with what Trump went around the country the past two years talking about. The Heritage Foundation, which has been a key player in conservative politics since the Reagan administration and likely would have continued to have been no matter who the GOP nominated, has also been key in helping the Trump campaign pick appointments.
The Heritage Foundation's plan is an ambitious one that promises to cut spending $10.5 trillion over 10 years, though, as the Washington Post points out, the combined budgets of the NEA, NEH and CPB make up just 0.002 percent of the budget. That's small scale compared to the total $3.9 trillion spent by the federal government in 2016. It's also relatively small scale to the billions-with-a-b some European countries spend on funding the arts every year.
Yet, despite the minuscule portion of the budget it makes up, calls to abolish the NEA are nothing new. Ronald Reagan reportedly came into office with a plan to eliminate the NEA all the way back in 1981 but came to accept that the program's relatively low funding was worth the price tag. Mitt Romney promised similar cuts during his campaign. His pointed call out of Big Bird became a viral moment during one of his debates against President Obama.
Though it has managed to endure, the Endowment has suffered a number of budget cuts and policy redirections over the year. In the late '80s and '90s it was the target of frequent right-wing criticism for giving grants to boundary-pushing artists like Andres Serrano (creator of the infamous "Piss Christ") and Karen Finley. Today it mostly funnels money to state and local arts organizations and has an emphasis on arts education.
In essence, it's basically the federal government's token recognition of the arts (and we do mean token ...cutting all funding to the program has the relative economic impact on the federal government of an individual picking up a penny off the street).
Still, its programs can be integral. For example, it recently partnered with the Department of Defense to promote art as a valid form of therapy for veterans returning from war. It's funded programs that promote the connection of arts and entrepreneurship and helped to shepherd programs that connect the homeless and underprivileged with the arts. In other words, it's an important supporter of programs that explore ways in which art and creativity can benefit American society as a whole.
Trump and his Heritage Foundation advisors, however, don't seem to think it's worth the price tag and may even highlight cuts to the arts as a message-making opening move.
“The Trump Administration needs to reform and cut spending dramatically, and targeting waste like the National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities would be a good first step in showing that the Trump Administration is serious about radically reforming the federal budget,” said Brian Darling, a former aide to Rand Paul and a former staffer at the Heritage Foundation.
For what it's worth, the vast majority of government spending is on mandatory programs like Social Security and Medicare (the president and Congress can't cut that funding directly, but can change the parameters of the programs–something Trump seems likely to do). Trump and the Republican congress would have more leeway to cut discretionary spending, the majority of which is dedicated to military spending. However, the Trump plan includes no major cuts to the military.
Incidentally, up until 2014 the National Endowments of the Arts and Humanities were headquartered in D.C.'s Old Post Office Pavilion. Their offices were moved after the building was leased to a private company. Today the building is known as the Trump International Hotel.