In an article focusing on the incoming Trump administration's efforts to shrink federal bureaucracy by cutting spending, The Hill reports that President-elect Donald Trump intends to "entirely" eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Both endowments are independent federal agencies, and each was formed in 1965.
The NEH, dedicated to "promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans," is, according to its website, "one of the largest funders of humanities programs in the United States." The NEA, according to its website, "funds, promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation."
A spokesperson for the NEA, when reached for comment on the report, said that the agency is "not speculating on what policies the new administration may or may not choose to prioritize or pursue."
Last August, the NEH announced more than $4 million in grants for book-related projects, while the NEA in December named 37 writers to fellowships for the fiscal year 2017. The NEA fellows, chosen from a pool of more than 1,800 applicants, each received $25,000 for "the time and space to create, revise, conduct research, and connect with readers." The NEA also awarded grants for literary publishing projects to nonprofit organizations including Archipelago Books and the Kenyon Review.
In fiscal year 2015, the NEH had an operating budget of $146,021,000, and requested a $147,942,000 budget for FY 2016. The NEA budget, in FY 2015, was $146,021,000, which was increased to $147,949,000 in 2016. Within a projected federal budget, according to the Congressional Budget Office, of $3.9 trillion for the fiscal year 2016, the NEH and NEA's budgets combined total less than 0.0075% of federal costs.
Nicholas Fleisher, an associate professor in the linguistics department at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, tweeted similar numbers more succinctly (Fleisher's numbers include the budget for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which the incoming administration is reportedly considering privatizing):
The combined annual budgets of NEH, NEA, and CPB ($739m) would fund the Pentagon ($585b) for 11 hours https://t.co/QDr5n339Jp— Nick Fleisher (@nickfleisher) January 19, 2017
Reaction to the report has been swift, and highly critical, including the use of the hashtag #SavetheNEH on social media platforms. The National Humanities Alliance, an advocacy group which, according to their website, is "dedicated to the advancement of humanities education, research, preservation, and public programs," published a blog post shortly after the news broke, imploring readers to "help us nip efforts to defund NEH in the bud."
In a statement following The Hill's reporting on January 19, PEN America executive director Suzanne Nossel argued that the Trump administration's plan to abolish the NEH and NEA would "usher in a new Dark Ages in America" were it to be implemented. She called the plan "an outrageous abdication of the U.S. government's proud history of support for groundbreaking research and creative endeavors that have served as engines of innovation and bolstered America's stature as a haven for free thinkers and a global leader in humanity's shared quest for knowledge."
The release of The Hill's report came not just on the eve of the inauguration, but on the eve of the American Library Association's midwinter conference in Atlanta as well. At last June's ALA annual conference in Orlando, NEH chairman William D. Adams spoke to the importance of the humanities within a healthy democracy, as PW senior writer Andrew Albanese reported. “There is no democracy without the act of memory,” Adams said, adding that the “humanities and democracy are deeply and permanently intertwined in the history of the life of this country.”
Adams further noted that the NEH has made roughly 63,000 grants to individuals and cultural institutions across the country in its history, totaling $5.3 billion. Libraries, he added, were a major recipient of that support, with the nearly 3,400 library grants awarded over the last 50 years totaling $515 million, plus another 80 grants to the ALA, beginning in 1971.
This article has been updated with further information.