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.
Meet the Women Who Are Making the Women’s March on Washington Happen
The executive director of the Arab American Association of New York, Linda Sarsour — a Brooklyn native, mother of three, and now one of the national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington — has been working at the crossroads of civil rights, religious freedom, and racial justice for 15 years. Once an aspiring English teacher, she joined the Arab American Association in its infancy, succeeding founder Basemah Atweh, her mentor, as executive director with Atweh’s death in 2005. “I grew out of the shadow of 9/11,” Sarsour said. “What I’ve seen out of bad always comes good, is that solidarity and unity, particularly amongst communities of color who feel like they’re all impacted by the same system.”
Tamika D. Mallory’s roots in community organizing and activism extend back to her early childhood: her parents were two of the earliest members of the Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network nearly 30 years ago, an organization for which Mallory went on to act as executive director. But it wasn’t until the death of her son’s father 15 years ago that Mallory found her niche in civil rights and flung herself headlong into activism. Now, she’s one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, balancing organizing the march with her day job as a speaker and civil rights advocate. “We’re centering this march by having women to be at the helm of it, to organize it, and to be most of the speakers,” she said. “At the same time I think it’s very important that we never forget the fact that our men, our brothers, our young brothers particularly need this support.”
Fashion entrepreneur Bob Bland was nearing the due date of her second daughter, now seven weeks old, when she posted a Facebook event calling for a march on Washington during inauguration weekend. Nine weeks later, she’s one of four national co-chairs at the heart of the Women’s March on Washington — where she’ll march with her infant, her six-year-old daughter, and her 74-year-old mother. “We’re activating people who were previously content with sitting behind their computer and posting on Facebook,” she said.
For Carmen Perez, executive director of Harry Belafonte’s Gathering for Justice and one of the four national co-chairs of the Women’s March on Washington, work permeates everything else: “There’s no real life outside of activism,” she said. Just over two decades ago, Perez’s elder sister was killed — the anniversary of her burial coincides with the march, and with Perez’s birthday — and navigating the justice system motivated her to work with incarcerated young men and women, first as a probation officer and then with The Gathering, operating on the intersection of race, criminal justice, and immigration. “Oftentimes, when I’m in spaces, I am the only Latina and I have to speak a little louder for my community to be part of the conversation,” she said. “The work that I do around racial justice, it’s not just about Latino rights. It’s also about human rights.”
Californian ShiShi Rose, 27, moved to New York a year ago to develop her activism and writing. She previously worked at a local rape crisis center and assisted in educating therapists and counselors before turning her focus more squarely towards race, first via her Instagram account and then through public speaking engagements and writing. As part of the national committee for the Women’s March on Washington, Rose runs the group’s social media channels, from Instagram (where she has a substantial following) to Facebook. “Women encompass everything,” Rose said. “If you can fight for women’s rights, you can fight for rights across the board.”
A law student-turned-actress-turned-activist, Sarah Sophie Flicker was born in Copenhagen, the great-granddaughter of a Danish prime minister who has been credited with bringing democratic socialism to Denmark. She grew up in California before moving to New York to found the political cabaret Citizens Band, eventually joining the production company Art Not War. “Once you start breaking it all down, you realize the most vulnerable people in any community tend to be women,” she said. “All our issues intersect, and something that may affect me as a white woman will doubly affect a black woman or a Latina woman or an indigenous woman. So when we talk about a women’s movement, we need to be talking about all women.”
Vanessa Wruble, a member of the national organizing committee, is the uber-connector of the Women’s March on Washington. She’s also the founder and editor of OkayAfrica, a site connecting culture news from continental Africa with an international audience. It was Wruble who first messaged Bland on Facebook to connect her with the women who would eventually become her co-chairs: “She said, Hey, you know, you need to center women of color in the leadership of this so it can be truly inclusive,’” Bland recalled. Within a day, they were meeting for coffee; now, they’re marching together in one of the largest demonstrations in support of a vast array of causes in United States history.
Paola Mendoza, artistic director of the Women’s March on Washington, is a Colombian-American director and writer whose work has focused on immigrant experiences, particularly those of Latina women. “Women have never convened this way in our lifetime,” Mendoza said of the march, “and it’s being led for the first time ever by women of color.”
Janaye Ingram, who Michelle Obama once described as an “impressive leader,” is Head of Logistics for the March, in addition to being a consultant for issues like civil, voting, and women’s rights in Washington D.C.
Cassady Fendlay, communications director for the Women’s March on Washington, is a writer and communications strategist whose clients include The Gathering for Justice — the organization helmed by Women’s March national co-chair Carmen Perez. As the spokeswoman for the march, Fendlay is tasked with acting as its mouthpiece, ensuring its message is accurate, unified, and coherent.
In addition to being a producer of the march, Ginny Suss is the Vice President of Okayplayer.com and the President and co-founder of OkayAfrica — she does video production for both. Her background in the music industry runs deep, and she’s worked closely with The Roots for the past 13 years, serving as their Tour Manager for some time. She’s also produced large outdoor events like The Roots Picnic, Summerstage, Lincoln Center Out Of Doors, and Celebrate Brooklyn — vital experience for organizing a march of this size.
Last year, Nantasha Williams ran for the New York State Assembly as a representative of the 33rd district — which encompasses a region just east of Jamaica, Queens. Though she lost to Democrat Clyde Vanel, she’s putting her organizing skills to good use in the aftermath of the election, working on the logistics team for the march and assisting national co-chair Tamika Mallory.
When Alyssa Klein isn’t managing the various social media accounts for the Women’s March, she’s writer and Senior Editor at OkayAfrica, the largest online destination for New African music, culture, fashion, art, and politics. Based in both New York City and Johannesburg, Klein’s passion is movies and television, and has made it her profession to highlight creatives of color in both industries. Juggling social media is no easy side project, however. The Women’s March has approximately 80,000 followers on Instagram and Twitter, plus a over 200,000 on Facebook.
Shirley Marie Johnson is the March’s head administrator for Tennessee, as well as an author, poet, and singer. Primarily, though, she’s an activist and advocate for those who are victim to domestic violence, a cause that’s not only her focus at the March, but in her day-to-day life through her group Exodus, Inc., which aids those affected by rape, human trafficking, and other abuse.
Born in Shanghai, Ting Ting Cheng studied human rights at the University of Cape Town — and became an award-winning Fulbright scholar to South Africa — before heading to New York, where she’s now a criminal defense attorney at the Brooklyn Defender Services. All that’s no doubt come in handy for her role as Legal Director of the March.
Heidi Solomon is one of the three co-organizers for the Pennsylvania chapter of the Women’s March. Although she doesn’t have a long background in activism, Trump’s election moved her to take action, and she’s helped rally approximately 6,000 people from her home state.
Deborah Harris is a grassroots organizer and feminist self-help author who lives in Las Vegas, Nevada, and served as a community activist for 10 years in the fields of fashion, healthcare, at risk youth, and supportive women’s relations.
As Illinois’ state representative for the Women’s March, Mrinalini Chakraborty has taken the lead in coordinating the Chicago-area charge, organizing bus rides for well over a thousand women and other supporters. She’s also on the National Committee and is a coordinator for all 50 states coming to D.C.. And that’s in addition to her day job: She’s a graduate teaching and research assistant at the University of Illinois at Chicago for anthropology, not to mention a student and a dedicated food blogger.
After earning her Ph.D in psychology, Dr. Deborah Johnson is now studying social work at the University of Oklahoma in Tulsa — and making sure she stands up for both her and her daughter’s rights at the March, which she’s helping lead the way to for other Oklahomans.
Renee Singletary is an organizer, mother of two, wife of one, marketing consultant, and certified herbalist living and working in Charleston, South Carolina.
A yoga instructor, theater graduate, and local organizer, South Carolina native Evvie Harmon has brought her skills and energy to the march as its global co-coordinator alongside Breanne Butler. Together, they facilitate partner marches and local organizers around the world, bringing the whole thing into synergy.