Thoughts on the National Endowment for the Arts

On January 20th, I wrote this post in response to the inauguration of our 45th President. Now six months in to his presidency, I feel compelled to share thoughts on what we—the electorate—should expect from our politicians. These writings represent my vision for the future rooted in empathy, compassion, and an attempt to close the political canyon between our two parties.  

Vision Statement: Access to high quality arts and arts education is a human right.

The attempt by the Trump administration to cut the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) from the FY18 budget came as no surprise to me. This has happened before. Thankfully, the House Appropriations Committee has a different opinion and has largely kept NEA funding in place. For now.

Cutting the NEA, which amounts to .003% of our annual budget doesn’t make good economic sense. Here are some statistics from the NEA to consider:

  • The financial statistics differ by art form and change from year to year, but in 2004 about 44% of the income generated by American arts organizations came from sales or the box office. The rest was donated—overwhelmingly from the private sector.
  • Only about 13% of arts support in the U.S. came from the government, and of that, only about 9% comes from the federal government. Overall, less than 1% of funding came from the National Endowment for the Arts. (The figures on government support exclude the enormous indirect subsidy the federal government provides by making cultural contributions tax deductible.)
  • In case after case, the NEA learned that its grants had a powerful multiplying effect. Every dollar that the NEA gave in grants typically generated seven to eight times more money in terms of matching grants, further donations, and earned revenue. A $100,000 grant, therefore, delivered $800,000 in eventual funds to an organization.

Source: How the United States Funds the Arts

The multiplier effect is obvious: NEA funding has the power to legitimize a new organization and further validate an existing one. Such endorsements attract further support, which means more jobs in communities across the country.

Defunding the NEA is attractive to some because they feel it represents extemporaneous spending by the federal government. America has an ever expanding gap between the top 20% of earners and the rest of the country and access to the arts has become difficult for individuals in lower socioeconomic regions. With numerous studies justifying the value of the arts, the NEA is a national reminder that the federal government plays an important role in leveling the playing field in regions that otherwise would not be able to support the arts.

If you support the NEA, check out what Americans for the Arts is doing to advocate for the preservation of the NEA and keep notifying your government officials. Instead of preserving current funding, let’s insist that our government fund the NEA fully in FY18 ($150 million dollars) and expand the NEA’s funding to $500 million dollars by FY25.

We are in control of our government. What vision do you have for the arts?


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Nate Zeisler is the Dean for Community Initiatives at the Colburn School in Los Angeles. He envisions a world where students majoring in the arts have a clear path to a sustainable career, where creative minds are empowered and inspired to rule the workforce, and where access to the arts is not just for the privileged few, but for all.

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