Obama’s 2016 Arts Budget

Altered logo for the National Endowment for the Arts

Altered logo for the National Endowment for the Arts

President Obama has proposed a Fiscal Year 2016 budget approaching a record $3.99 trillion. It contains money for a $478 billion “public works” program for the construction of upgrades to U.S. transit systems, bridges, and highways, all financed by taxes on profits U.S. corporations have amassed overseas. It is nice that Mr. Obama is promising American workers the world, now that Republicans holding majorities in both the House and Senate of the U.S. Congress will undoubtedly block his faux “Rooseveltian” vision. Obama’s budget is a shell game designed to take advantage of the politically confused.

You see, the president could not offer a public works program earlier in his presidency when democrats had congressional majorities in the House and Senate, because he was too busy bailing out giant financial firms with hundreds of billions of taxpayer dollars. But I am supposed to be writing about Obama’s proposed FY 2016 arts budget.

Let me put it this way. Our Nobel Peace Prize Laureate president has put forward a “defense” budget for FY 2016 that will total $620.9 billion. His proposed budget for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), you know, the U.S. government agency that is “dedicated to supporting excellence in the arts” from sea to shining sea… is a mere $148 million. Here I must add that Clint Eastwood’s American Sniper has grossed, in just a three week period, $31.9 million dollars; the film is expected to generate $249 million in domestic sales.[1]

When announcing his FY 2016 budget, Obama said: “Will we accept an economy where only a few of us do spectacularly well? Or are we going to build an economy where everyone who works hard has a chance to get ahead?” The answer to that should be obvious; the financial aristocracy is grinning from ear to ear.

George W. Bush was certainly no friend of the NEA, but during 2009, the last year of his administration, he gave the NEA a $155 million dollar budget. What might shock the reader… or not, is that under the Obama administration the national arts budget has been consistently slashed since 2010. In that year Obama’s NEA budget was $161 million, in 2011 it was $154 million, in 2012 it dropped to $146 million, in 2013 it bottomed-out at $138 million. In 2014 it “rebounded” like a zombie from The Walking Dead by shambling back up to the shameful sum of $146 million, where it continued to limp and stumble throughout 2015. Now Mr. Obama has requested that the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) should receive a $2 million dollar increase in 2016… which is still lower than George W. Bush’s 2009 funding of the NEA!

That is no mean trick for a senator that cajoled the U.S. arts community into electing him as president. Remember the hard sell from the 2008 presidential election campaign - Barack Obama and Joe Biden: Champions For Art and Culture? Remember the excited chattering amongst artists (save for this one), that Obama was the only candidate to have a platform in support of the arts? The better question is what happened to the voices of all those artists who worked so hard at promoting Mr. Hope and Change? They have all fallen silent, or changed the subject. Laughably, some have even managed to continue packaging themselves as “subversive” artists.

Robert L. Lynch, the CEO of Americans for the Arts, the nonprofit organization that lobbies for the advancement of the arts in the U.S., said the following about the president’s arts budget:

“The Administration’s FY 2016 budget request for the NEA is moving in the right direction with a $2 million increase. Congress will especially embrace the increased focus and expansion on the NEA’s grantmaking work with arts and the military, including the Healing Arts Partnership. However, this proposed funding level still does not meet the needs of the 95,000 nonprofit arts organizations and state and local arts agencies across the country nor does it reflect the value of the arts to help power our nation’s annual economic growth reflected in U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis data showing the arts to be an annual $698.7 billion industry or 4.32 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product.”

Obama’s request to raise the 2016 NEA budget by a measly $2 million - still keeping the sum lower than it was in 2010 - should not enthrall arts professionals. It reminds me of the folk truism “they break our legs, and we say thank you when they offer us crutches,” so beautifully encapsulated by the U.K. punk band Chumbawamba in their 1987 song, Here’s The Rest of Your Life.

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Reference [1] ArtsBeat/New York Times

Addendum, Dec. 29, 2015

On Dec. 18, 2015, the U.S. Congress approved President Obama’s proposed 2016 budget; Mr. Obama had requested $148 million for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The approved budget apportions $147.949 million to the NEA. That is still 7 million dollars less than President Bush’s 2009 NEA budget!

At the close of 2015 Mr. Eastwood’s American Sniper far exceeded its expected box office gross of $249 million in domestic sales.  The film garnered $350.1 million in domestic sales and $197 million in overseas sales, for a whopping total of $547.1 million; worldwide, Eastwood’s film is the top grossing war film in history.

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