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Trump Asks Supporters If NEA Funding Should Be Axed

As President Donald Trump prepares to release his budget, he has once again taken to the internet to seek input from his supporters—and funding for arts programs appears squarely in his sights.

In an email survey, the Republican National Committee identifying itself as "Trump Headquarters" asks them how they would like him to deal with funding for various programs—the RNC and administration issued a similar survey on what the President should prioritize in his first days in office, on how he should deal with the mainstream media, and other issues.

Making the list of 25 issues alongside nation building, abortion and social security, is whether to keep funding the National Endowment for the Arts, which has regularly drawn the ire of Republicans, including former President Ronald Reagan, over some of the arts that are supported—Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorpe are two notable, if extreme, examples.

"President Trump is putting the finishing touches on our America First budget," says the email, adding that he first needs input from "grassroots leaders."

Number 10 on the list is NEA and the same five options given for each category: increase, stay the same, cut funding, eliminate funding, or "no opinion." 

The President proposes a budget, but Congress has to approve it, so the proposed budget is usually the beginning of a process, not the end point. With Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, the odds of a proposal making it to the finish line increases. 

There were reports that Trump might not be looking to zero out the agency and might have actor Sylvester Stallone head it. But the actor was apparently not interested, and more recently reports were that the agency's budget could indeed be on the chopping block or at least the trimming block.

Trump campaign supporter and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attempted unsuccessfully to defund NEA in the 1990s.

NEA is the independent government agency established in 1965 to partner with federal, state, and local agencies and funding sources to support arts learning and equal access to the art, according to NEA, which has awarded more than $5 billion over that time. 

In 2015, for example–its most recent annual report—it partnered with Playbill and Disney to create a Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for high school students, sponsored poetry reading competitions, and funded fellowships in writing and translation. Its total budget was a little less than $150 million, about one sixteenth of one stealth bomber.

NEA sponsored 30,000 concerts, readings, and performances, more than 5,000 exhibitions (attendance 33 million), and supported performances on broadcasting and cable to at least 360 million more.

NEA has helped create art therapy for injured servicemen and even partnered with the White House for its 2014 holiday tour.