Tens of thousands of years ago, human beings began leaving their mark on the world through paintings made on the walls of caves, carved sculptures and incisions made into rock. Before we as a species had even developed any form of writing system, our history was recorded in these pieces of art. Thousands upon thousands of years later, Francis Scott Key wrote the words to perhaps the most highly regarded song in the United States: The Star Spangled Banner.
Whole generations of children who grew up in the late 20th century were educated and inspired daily by
visits to Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood. Visual art, music and public access broadcasting all have something in common: they are mediums directly threatened by Donald Trump’s proposal to slash funding for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities.
Plans to cut funding to the NEA and the NEH came to light over the past week as part of a memo featuring a proposed hit list of various programs to cut in order to reduce spending. However, the NEA’s budget last year was $148 million, a mere pittance at only .004 percent of the total federal budget for the year. It’s a drop in the bucket in terms of federal spending, but the small amount allocated to these endowments goes towards offering grants to artists and performers and funds many public television networks across the country.
It’s increasingly clear that the proposed defunding of these programs is less of a shortcut to cutting federal spending, and more of a direct attack of the existence of the arts in the United States as a whole. Proposed attacks on federal spending to the arts aren’t new, they existed back in the time of the conservative president Ronald Reagan. Attacks on arts funding have in the past reared their heads in response to controversial works of art that challenged what society viewed as “proper” or “acceptable.” In simpler terms, attacks have been made on art for being deemed too liberal.
But not all works are even so divisive in nature. PBS would be one victim of cuts to federal funding of the arts, and also has drawn fire many times in the past for holding some sort of liberal bias.
One specific PBS show that has drawn fire is Sesame Street, an educational show targeted at children. Conservative author Ben Shapiro criticized the show for being so bold as to suggest that conflict should be resolved peacefully if possible, and that children should be accepting and understanding of those with different skin colors than themselves.
Despite political affiliation, what opponents of the arts fail to realize is the arts are integral to the human experience as a whole. It is impossible to go a day without being exposed to some aspect of artistic or creative expression. The clothes we put on each morning, the music we listen to on the radio while commuting to work and the colors of paint on the walls in our offices and classrooms are all a result of artistic expression and decision making. Furthermore, the arts exist in part to tell us truths, oftentimes uncomfortable truths. The peace sign was created as a response to the very real threat of nuclear violence and popular music to this day touches on themes of inequality.
The current dominant political party, headed up by none other than Donald Trump, has frequently lambasted the media for seeking truths, ignoring facts under the defense of “fake news.” It is of no surprise that Trump now too comes after the arts, a medium which consistently tell us how things were, how things are now, and inspires us to be better.