A culture war, or rather a war on culture, has been raging in our country for years. We have seen it in our public schools, where programs for the arts or music are the first to feel the blows of budget slashes. We have seen it on television where programs such as “Duck Dynasty” and “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo” have become popular hits.
But today, the highly respected news organization The Hill reported that Team Trump is trying to slip a fast one on the American people. Mixed in among their proposed funding cuts to the departments of Commerce and Energy, Transportation, Justice, and State, these philistines announced that they intend to “privatize” the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and totally eliminate funding for The National Endowment for the Arts and The National Endowment for the Humanities. It should be noted that in 1994 then-Speaker of the House, and current Trump major advocate, Newt Gingrich led an identical, and ultimately failed attempt in a Republican House of Representatives to completely eliminate these agencies.
For decades these have three shining lights in American culture – The Corporation for Public Broadcasting, The National Endowment for the Arts, and The National Endowment for the Humanities. The CPB “is private, non-profit corporation created by Congress in 1967. CBP is the steward of the federal government’s investment in public broadcasting and the largest single source of funding for public radio, television, and related online and mobile services.” [cpb.org]
While the Corporation for Public Broadcasting does not create any programs itself, it is primarily responsible for making programs like “Frontline” and “Masterpiece Theater” available on Public Broadcasting System. Even the popular hit “Sherlock” is only available on PBS. (BTW – Trump might want to reconsider pissing off the Cumberbitches).
The PBS NewsHour provides reporting from respected journalists ranging from Jim Lehler and Judy Hill on National Public Radio (NPR) Millions have also enjoyed other programs like “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me” or “All Things Considered.” These programs are not totally funded by the government as everyone who has ever lived through their many fund-raising programs knows all too well.
Perhaps not every American has watched or listened to any of these programs, but in 2011 alone, PBS received 32 Emmy nominations for News & Documentary in addition to 43 Primetime Emmy nominations. Looks like the American taxpayer got a pretty good bang for its buck just with NPR alone.
Let’s take a look at the other two.
The National Endowment for the Humanities is an independent federal agency created in 1965 and one of the largest funders of humanities projects in the United States.[neh.gov] Just a few of its notable achievements including the following projects:
- “Treasures of Tutankhamen” an exhibition seen by more than 1.5 million people.
- The Civil War, the landmark documentary by Ken Burns, viewed by more than 38 million people.
- Seven thousand books, 16 of which have won the Pulitzer prize and 20 of which have received the Bancroft Prize
Its sister agency, The National Endowment for the Arts is an “independent federal agency that funds promotes, and strengthens the creative capacity of our communities by providing all Americans with diverse opportunities for arts participation.” [arts.gov] It is also possibly the most controversial of the three. In 1989, an exhibit by photographer Robert Mapplethorpe, which was funded in part by the NEA, created a storm of controversy because of the material that many found offensive. However, despite efforts during the Reagan Administration to abolish it, satisfactory changes to its operations saved the agency.
Public support for the arts is not recent, nor is it uniquely American. One need only goes back to the Renaissance to see that Michelangelo’s magnificent Sistine Chapel, among many of his other works, were fully paid for by the Vatican. The city of Florence financed many of Leonardo da Vinci’s works, both artistic and military. History is replete with many more examples, too numerous to list here.
The Scotsman, the premier newspaper in Scotland, published in 2011 that “During the Second World War, Winston Churchill’s finance minister said Britain should cut arts funding to support the war effort. Churchill’s response. “Then what are we fighting for?”
While Churchill may or may not have made this statement, his commitment to the importance of the arts in public life was never in dispute. We are facing another battle, another war on culture in America. If we run the risk of being labeled “elitist” by the supporters of a man who admittedly never reads a book and whose idea of décor is gold-plated everything, then so be it. When it comes to culture and taste, Churchill should be our model, not Trump.
These programs were established and funded by Congress. Despite the wishes of Team Trump, only Congress can eliminate them. Remind your members of Congress that if they do vote to do away with public funding for the arts
“Then what are we fighting for?”