Among the casualties of the Trump administration’s budget for the coming fiscal year, should its recommendations be accepted by Congress, will be the three federal agencies — the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Institute of Library and Museum Services (IMLS) — that have long provided vital support for the arts and culture throughout our country. That’s unfortunate, because their impact on American life has been disproportionate to the modest investment we have made in them. Indeed, their elimination, it is generally agreed, would have a minimal effect on any effort to balance the federal budget.
Many voices have already been raised in opposition to these proposed cuts. And with good reason, for they are a classic example of being penny wise and pound foolish. Our collective investment in arts and culture reflects a deeply democratic instinct to make those things that reflect our creative spirit and express our most profound hopes and aspirations accessible to as many people as possible. And, modest though this investment may be, its effect — through the good work of the NEA, NEH, and IMLS — can be felt in many communities, both large and small, in every state in the union.
It has a powerful symbolic value as well. The support of the NEA, NEH, and IMLS, and the recognition of excellence attached to the grants they award, has long served as a means to encourage additional support for institutions such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art from the private sector. In this regard, the continued funding of these agencies, as important as this may be, is not the only issue at stake here, or even the most significant one. If Washington absents itself from the conversation about arts and culture, what message does this send to all those, artists and audiences alike, who believe that these things are crucially important to the future of our country? Simply put, why kill off something that continues to work and work well and has produced for us, individually and collectively, a world of good?
As we and our many sister institutions in Philadelphia and its metropolitan region witness every day, the arts bring us together in a time when divisiveness is on the rise, foster a broader understanding of the increasingly complex world in which we live, and, most importantly spur our imagination. These are outcomes worth supporting, and — if we want to ensure that arts and culture remain part of the national conversation about this country and its future, so, too, is the work of the NEA, NEH, and IMLS.
Later this week, as Philadelphians and tourists begin their July Fourth celebrations to mark the birth of our nation, the Art Museum will raise two “Save The Arts” banners on the east side of our iconic building as a simple statement of support for these three federal agencies and all that they contribute to the creative life of our great country. Across the city and the region, cultural institutions will stand united in a show of support for this vitally important cause. I hope Philadelphians will stand with us and join in this effort to #SaveTheArts.
Timothy Rub is the George D. Widener director and chief executive officer of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. email@example.com