Bad times could be looming for public broadcasting and arts and cultural organizations as President Donald Trump weighs potentially crippling budget cuts. In an attempt to hold Trump at bay, cultural groups are emphasizing the enormous bang that taxpayers get for their bucks. They say the arts are a $704 billion industry that adds more to the gross domestic product than tourism.
If that’s not persuasive enough, think of what cultural programming might look like if media conglomerates and corporate interests were left to determine what is art. Are any of us ready for a steady diet of “Keeping up with the Kardashians”?
Conservatives have spent more than a decade bashing the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities for their liberal biases. The president has power to appoint public broadcasting board members and chairpeople for the national endowment organizations.
The far-right Breitbart News Network is fueling concerns about federal funding for public broadcasting. The organization said in November that the Trump administration could take aim at $500 million budgeted for the corporation. Breitbart’s former executive chairman, Stephen K. Bannon, is Trump’s chief strategist and senior counselor.
The Corporation for Public Broadcasting provides PBS television with 15 percent of its funding and NPR radio broadcasting with 10 percent. Such non-commercial broadcasting provides thoughtful and enriched programming for free to poor and isolated people, and children in particular, who would not have access to it otherwise.
Conservative media outlets are equally hostile to the NEA and the NEH. The Heritage Foundation called NEA funding “welfare for cultural elitists.” The NEA provides grants for artists and arts programs across a wide array of disciplines, including literature, music, dance and theater. It also partners with state and regional organizations to provide arts programming. The NEH provides grants for humanities projects to institutions such as museums, archives, libraries and colleges.
These organizations make arts and cultural programming accessible for those who can least afford it. They enrich and replenish the nation’s cultural heritage while providing opportunities for educating and expanding the scope of teachers in the arts. Using tax revenues to protect cultural freedom of expression helps keep the arts vibrant and publicly available. The First Amendment freedom of expression is just as important in art as it is in the spoken and printed word.
There is also legitimate concern that the arts will not flourish without government support. Cultural programming can be controversial, challenging viewpoints and presumptions and opening avenues for dialogue and debate. If funding dried up, fewer artists would have the freedom to take the risks that keep the arts lively.
Stripping the groups of funding wouldn’t make a sizable dent in the federal budget. This would be a symbolic and mean-spirited step that the president need not take.
— St. Louis Post-Dispatch