The Need for the National Endowment for the Arts

by Kendall Quirk

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In President Trump’s 2018 proposed budget, he stated plans to eliminate federal funds to many independent agencies including the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). While the NEA represents only a very minute portion of the federal budget (0.004%), it’s worth examining if these programs should be defunded.

The NEA is a federally funded independent agency supporting American arts through grants and other partnerships to promote the arts in communities small and large across the United States. Museums, theaters, cultural centers, and other art and culture programs rely on the critical support provided by grants from the NEA. These grants don’t just support adults looking to attend a show or art exhibit: children also see enormous benefits. It’s no secret that children with an arts education, especially in early childhood, develop skills not acquired through other subjects. The impact extends beyond these developmental benefits though.

Art is often seen as an activity for the elite. Galleries, operas, and orchestras are often seen as stereotypically upper-class activities, but art transcends economic boundaries. Studies show that art programs, afterschool and during the summer, have a significant impact on the reduction of stress among children as young as 3-5 years old from low-income families, helping to improve their overall physiological health. Beyond the developmental benefits in early childhood, an increased enrollment in after-school arts programs is associated with reduced juvenile crime rates. However, kids from low-income families have less access to after-school programs and the arts, so arts programs that are affordable or free for students have a positive impact on the student and the community.

A recent study by the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the National Endowment for the Arts shows that the arts contribute $763.6 billion to the U.S. economy, more than agriculture, transportation, or warehousing. The arts have a positive trade balance, exporting $20 billion more than imported, and providing jobs to 4.9 million workers across the country. These huge results from the art community debunk a long-standing myth that the arts do not contribute to the economy.

The NEA awards thousands of grants every year, averaging 2,500 grants in every Congressional district in the 2016 fiscal year, directly impacting around 20 million people. For someone who is one of the 20 million, the benefit of NEA grants cannot be overlooked. Local museums that provide arts education and world-class art exhibitions rely on grants to bring entertainment and culture to a community that otherwise would not be able to access such exhibitions. A $2 million increase in the 2016 fiscal year budget allowed the NEA to expand their Creative Forces program, a military healing arts program. Collaborations with the Departments of Housing and Urban Development and Agriculture bring arts to high poverty communities.

The statistics above show the benefits of art programs on young children, older children participating in after-school programs, communities, and the economy, reflecting benefits seen from the arts. It’s hard to put a price on accelerated developmental skills or reduced crime rates, but I believe many people would support continued funding to the National Endowment for the Arts without a price. The elimination of the NEA would send shockwaves through communities when parents can’t take their kids to a local museum on a rainy day because of a lack of funding, or the local outdoor theater no longer holds plays and concerts every night during the summer for the same reason, and while for the upper-class, implementation of entry fees and increased prices wouldn’t have a large effect on their consummation of the arts, it would largely affect the middle and lower classes, or those who have shown they need it most.

Numbers and data support the continued funding of the NEA, for the benefit of kids, communities, and the economy, but the support of artist and lovers of the arts across the country, speaks for itself. The NEA and similar agencies benefit Americans from a young age and stretches throughout their lives.