Fact vs. Fiction: Government Arts Funding

This morning, President Trump submitted his administration's first budget request to Congress. The proposal calls for an elimination of all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) in fiscal year 2018. If this budget is enacted, the elimination of the NEA would have dire consequences for every state, especially California where the NEA awarded nearly $9 million in direct grants in 2016.

Guest post authored by the National Assembly of State Arts Agencies (NASAA). Click here to view a PDF of this national arts advocacy resource at www.nasaa-arts.org. 

A vigorous democracy periodically debates the role of government and the ways the public sector can best support the prosperity and well-being of its citizens. When those questions turn to the role of government in supporting the arts, make sure the discussion is fueled by the facts!

Fiction: Eliminating the arts will help the government balance its budget.

FACT: The arts return $22.3 billion in revenue to federal, state, county and municipal governments. A strong arts sector makes it easier for our government to balance its books.

Fiction: Cutting government arts programs will save a lot of money.

FACT: The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) receives a mere 0.004% of the total federal budget, less than 1/2 of one hundredth of one percent. Appropriations to state arts agencies constitute just 0.04% of state general funds expenditures, less than one half of one tenth of one percent. Arts cuts will harm communities without achieving real savings.

Fiction: All Republicans want to cut the arts.

FACT: The last time a Republican President occupied the White House (2001-2008), federal appropriations to the NEA increased by $40 million. Republicans held the majority in both houses of Congress for four of those eight years. Support for the arts is pan-partisan. Republicans and Democrats alike have track records of supporting the arts because they know it’s wise economic policy and is popular with constituents.

Fiction: Government support for the arts primarily benefits the urban elite.

FACT: Government arts support ensures that rural communities and low-income groups get their fair share of the educational and economic benefits offered by the arts. 40% of NEA-supported activities take place in high-poverty neighborhoods. While 15% of the U.S. population lives in rural areas, more than 25% of all state arts agency grants go to these communities.

Fiction: Arts organizations are dependent on public dollars.

FACT: Government funding is typically a small slice of the funding pie. For instance, funding from state arts agencies composes only 2.1% of total grantee revenue (source: NASAA analysis of annual statistical reports). However, these small investments pack a big punch: arts organizations use public dollars to generate earned income, secure private contributions and leverage local matching funds. Every $1 of NEA support leverages $9 in matching funds.

Fiction: The private sector will pick up the bill if government arts funding is cut.

FACT: A solely private funding model would leave many American communities behind. Philanthropic giving in the United States is geographically disproportional: rural areas receive only 5.5% of all grant making, a figure that has declined over time. It takes a mixture of both public and private funds to realize the full power of the arts for all Americans.


NASAA is the membership organization serving America’s state and jurisdictional arts agencies. They are a national, not-for-profit, nonpartisan association that provides research, advocacy, training and networking for state arts agencies and their constituents. Their work is evidence-driven and grounded in the principles that the arts are essential to a thriving democracy and that the public, private and nonprofit sectors all have vital roles to play in American success. To learn more, visit www.nasaa-arts.org.

Pictured above: Pasadena Conservatory of Music receives arts education grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the California Arts Council to support arts education programming Title I schools.

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