Saving the NEA: An Update on Federal Arts Funding

The Authors Guild is happy to report that the 2019 federal budget has not only retained, but increased funding for the agencies that support the literary arts: the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).  By rejecting the proposal made by the Trump administration in the Presidential 2019 budget to phase out the agencies—and instead increasing the NEA and NEH’s funding by $3 million and the IMLS’s funding by $9 million—Congress has reiterated its commitment to preserving these vital cultural institutions.

The Authors Guild has actively lobbied for continued funding for these federal organizations, as they each contribute to writers and the culture of books. The NEA, in particular, provides direct support for writers in the form of approximately 36 Creative Writing Fellowships each year, consisting of grants in the amount of $25,000, to help with particular writing projects, which range from novels to academic books. But these grants and fellowships go a lot further than the books they help authors write. The money spent by the federal government on arts and culture contributes to the economy. As NEH Senior Deputy Chairman Jon Parrish Peede stated: "Our federal dollars play a catalytic role in generating local investment and sustainable economic development." The U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis and the NEA have recently released data showing that the arts contribute $763.6 billion to the U.S. economy, and according to NEA Chairman Jane Chu, “The data confirm that the arts play a meaningful role in our daily lives, including through the jobs we have, the products we purchase, and the experiences we share.”

The fact that these organizations will continue to be funded for the next fiscal year does not mean that the literary and arts community can sit back and relax. The threat to funding the arts and humanities will likely keep reappearing each year of this administration and in future administrations. As important as it is to  ensure that these agencies continue to exist, we also need to fight for an even greater federal commitment to the arts and literature. Books are unique carriers of ideas and experiences. They allow us to reflect on our time and place, and open ways for us to empathize with others unlike any other medium. Indeed they have played a central role in the development and sustenance of our democratic culture from the earliest days.

“Trump’s efforts to hack away at government support for the arts have been terrifying,” said James Gleick, the Authors Guild’s President. “It’s obviously not just about money, because the sums involved are tiny. It’s akin to his denigration of science—a direct assault on the creative and intellectual life of our nation." The administration’s threat to gut these agencies gave us, as well as other arts and humanities organizations around the country, the opportunity to educate Congress about their importance. We must not squander the chance to build on that.