With Trump Targeting Arts Funding, the NEA Might Have Just Announced Its Last Grant Recipients

While awaiting its fate under the Trump administration, the National Endowment for the Arts announced its second round of funding for the 2017 fiscal year. The federal arts agency has awarded 1,195 grants totaling $82.06 million, it announced Wednesday, to support activities in all 50 states as well as five U.S. jurisdictions.

“The American people are recognized for their innovative spirit, and these grants represent the vision, energy and talent of America’s artists and arts organizations,” NEA Chairman Jane Chu said in a statement. “I am proud of the role the National Endowment for the Arts plays in helping advance the creative capacity of the United States.”

Meanwhile, the White House and its new occupant, President Donald Trump, have repeatedly expressed an intention to eliminate the agency. With the 2018 U.S. budget still in the early stages of the appropriations process, it’s possible that the grants announced this week will be some of the last to come from the NEA.

The hundreds of grants fall into four big buckets. Every year, about 40 percent of the NEA’s funding goes toward state and regional agencies that run their own grant-making processes. These includes state bodies—such as the Indiana Arts Commission, the New York State Council on the Arts and the Florida Department of State’s Division of Cultural Affairs—and regional ones like the New England Foundation for the Arts. In this latest round of funding, $50.53 million went to such partnerships.

The NEA also gave out $540,000 in research grants, which go toward projects investigating the impact of arts or links between the arts and other areas; $6.9 million in grants to Our Town, a “place-making program that supports partnerships of artists, arts organizations and municipal government that work to revitalize neighborhoods”; and $24.1 million to Art Works, which supports work in fields including arts education, dance, museums, music, literature, folk and traditional arts, visual arts, theater and media arts.

This round also included: a $15,000 grant to Spectrum Dance Theater in Seattle, to support the presentation of “(IM)PULSE,” a work made in response to the Pulse shooting in Orlando that looks at historical and contemporary violence directed at LGBTQ people; a $10,000 grant to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, Arkansas, for a community music-education project that engages elementary school students through learning to play steel drums and performing; a $50,000 grant to the Arts Council of Indianapolis Inc., “to support artist, police and community training for arts activities that address public safety challenges”; and a $20,000 grant to James Madison University in Harrisburg, Virginia, for a study that examines the impact of a program that uses songwriting to explore issues of incarceration, equity, justice and community.

“The projects that come in represent the organizations that submit them and the place where those organizations are,” a spokesperson for the NEA tells Newsweek. “We’re funding a variety of activities all across the country that are really reflective of American creativity,” she adds. “There are different kinds of projects, different kinds of artistic perspectives, different kinds of visions and projects. I think that’s really reflected in the grant list.”

The NEA, along with the National Endowment for the Humanities, was slated to be cut in Trump’s first budget proposal for 2017. But Congress ultimately gave each endowment $150 million, marking a small increase over their respective 2016 amounts. The White House once again marked the NEA and NEH for elimination in its 2018 budget proposal. If the Trump administration gets its way, the NEA would receive about $29 million for next year—to shut itself down.

“We are disappointed because we see our funding actively making a difference with individuals of all ages, in thousands of communities, large, small, urban and rural, and in every congressional district in the nation,” Chu said in a statement following the release of the administration’s 2018 proposal. “As a federal government agency, the NEA cannot engage in advocacy, either directly or indirectly. We will, however, continue our practice of educating about the NEA’s vital role in serving our nation’s communities.”

But the proposed budget is just the first step, and it’s possible that Congress will once again decide not to heed Trump’s calls to get rid of the agency. In the meantime, the NEA will be receiving and reviewing grant applications in its quotidian thorough fashion, while waiting on a final say from Congress before awarding 2018 grants.

“We’ll continue to do our work,” the spokesperson says, “until things change.”

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