Potential federal arts funding cuts could affect University projects

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Photo Credit: Brooke Crim | Daily Texan Staff

As Congress scrambles to find the resources necessary to increase national security spending, the National Endowment for the Arts and programs like it could be in peril.

If the NEA or its counterpart, the National Endowment for the Humanities, are cut, some University arts and humanities experts say the impact would be catastrophic.

Every $1 the NEA or the NEH appropriates to a project leverages up to $9 in other public or private funds, according to the NEA’s website. This means a $200,000 grant from the NEA or NEH can turn into $2 million in total funding for projects ranging from archaeological excavations to theater in elementary schools.

Holly Williams, senior associate dean of the College of Fine Arts, said NEA and NEH grants lend projects a symbolic seal of approval. The process to apply for and receive a grant from either of those organizations is so rigorous that it adds an extraordinary amount of credibility to those projects, Williams said.

The Oplontis Project, an archaeological study conducted by University faculty of a seaside town buried when Mount Vesuvius erupted 2,000 years ago, exemplifies the effect of an NEH grant. After receiving a $150,000 grant from the NEH, in-kind contributions from the University brought its grant total to $330,000, said John Clark, art history professor and leader of the project.
Clark said the study would’ve been severely constrained without this support because it required hiring geology, chemistry and computer science specialists.

“It’s impossible to think about continuing research without the NEH, particularly since the humanities are so terribly underfunded in general,” Clark said. “The important part of the NEH is to remember that the humanities feed into and overlap with both the hard and soft sciences, so it’s literally a way of bridging disciplines.”

Together, the NEA and the NEH received a little less than $300 million from the federal government in 2015. Today, those budgets make up less than one-tenth of one percent of federal spending.

“The impact on this country is enormous,” Williams said. “People will say that any real democratic society has to support its arts and humanities because that’s supporting the culture of who we are and our identity. In my opinion, it’s very small-minded to even consider (defunding the NEA and NEH).”

Without one or both endowments, Williams said the arts and humanities fields would wither. Even the prominent Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York would have to adjust because all its exhibits are insured by the NEA, Williams said.

The English department’s Shakespeare at Winedale program received $200,000 from the NEH through a challenge grant, as well as an additional $10,000 NEA grant to support an outreach program that teaches Shakespeare to school children, Winedale director James Loehlin said. Lily Pipkin, Plan II senior and president of the outreach program, said she’s horrified by the idea that the NEA and NEH could be defunded after all the help Winedale has received from them.

“So much of arts and theater and literature and music is the chance to start and have conversations, so we can take a critical look at what is happening and who we are,” Pipkin said. “I wish that the thing we could be fighting for was increasing arts funding and support instead of having to defend the little that we already have.”