Episode No. 281 of The Modern Art Notes Podcast considers federal arts and humanities funding with Los Angeles Times art critic Christopher Knight and Andrew W. Mellon Foundation executive vice president for programs and research Mariët Westermann.
The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities make up eight one-thousandths of one percent of the federal budget. Still, in the name of austerity, the Trump White House has targeted the endowments, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting for elimination in its first budget. The endowments each received $148 million in appropriations in the federal government’s most recent fiscal year, while the IMLS received $230 million and CPB $445 million. Meanwhile, the Trump budget asks for a 10 percent increase in defense spending, a single-year bump of $54 billion — or 365 times the NEA or NEH’s total annual appropriation.
No American art or arts critic has written more about the role of federal arts and humanities funding and especially the national endowments over more years than Christopher Knight. He has been the art critic of the Los Angeles Times since 1989. He is a three-time finalist for the Pulitzer Prize and received the Frank Jewett Mather Award for Distinction in Art Criticism from the College Art Association in 1997. His quarter-century of writing on the NEA includes:
- “Left Shares Blame for Arts’ Woes” (Los Angeles Times, 1995)
- “A New Role for the NEA” (Brooklyn Rail, 2013)
- “The NEA Works. Why Does Trump Want to Destroy It?” (Los Angeles Times, 2017)
On the second segment, Mellon foundation VP Mariët Westermann discusses federal arts and humanities funding from a funder’s perspective. Prior to joining Mellon in 2010, was the provost and chief academic officer of New York University Abu Dhabi; director of NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts; associate director of research at the Clark Art Institute, and an associate professor at Rutgers University. As a historian of Netherlandish art, Westermann has written books on Jan Steen, Rembrandt, Vermeer and more.
Among the topics Westermann and host Tyler Green discuss is the legislative language that commits the nation to the support of the National Gallery of Art. It is contained in section 4(a) of a Joint Resolution of Congress passed on March 24, 1937 (20 USC 71-75):
“The faith of the United States is pledged that… the United States will provide such funds as may be necessary for the upkeep of the National Gallery of Art and the administrative expenses and costs of operation thereof, including the protection and care of works of art acquired by the Board, so that the National Gallery of Art shall be at all times properly maintained and the works of art contained therein shall be exhibited regularly to the general public free of charge. For these purposes there are hereby authorized to be appropriated such sums as may be necessary.”
Americans for the Arts has created an action center from which you may learn more about the White House’s proposed budget and identify and contact your federal representatives.
Air date: March 23, 2017.