The director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art spoke out last week against plans to eliminate the NEA. Carlos Delgado, Wikimedia Commons,

US museums fight plans to eliminate arts and humanities funding

Geraldine Kendall Adams, 27.02.2017
AAM calls on sector to speak out against cuts to vital endowments
Museum professionals in the US are visiting Washington in record numbers this week to emphasise the value of museums and fight against the Trump administration’s plans to abolish the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA).

Organisers estimate that the ninth annual Museums Advocacy Day, a lobbying event which is overseen by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and runs today and tomorrow, will see participation rise 50% on 2016, with more than 300 advocates representing all 50 states due to visit the US capital this year.

The US museum sector has expressed deep concern about the impact of abolishing government funding for the arts and humanities. The annual budget for each agency is just under $150m, and the grants they offer support public programming and access, as well as engagement, education and research projects at museums and other cultural institutions across America.  

“Museum professionals are stepping up in record numbers this year, motivated in part by concerns about reports that the NEH and NEA could face potential elimination,” said Laura Lott, the AAM’s president and CEO.

“These agencies play a uniquely valuable role in helping make the arts and humanities accessible to every American. The museum field will stand strongly against any effort to impede the important work of NEA and NEH, and the multiplier effect their grants have in local communities.”

“We will need every museum professional, every trustee, and every volunteer to speak with one voice to help preserve these vital agencies, and to make sure the new congress knows about the vital role museums play in our communities, our economy, and in the education of our young people.”

The directors of five art institutions in Boston - the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, the MIT List Visual Arts Center, the Institute of Contemporary Art, Harvard Art Museums and the Museum of Fine Arts - have also spoken out against the proposed cuts.

In a joint letter, they wrote: "We share the belief that access to the arts is at the core of a democratic and equitable society. During this moment of heightened national discord, the elimination of the NEA and NEH is not a cut our country can afford."

The letter follows the publication of an opinion piece in the New York Times by Thomas Campbell, the director of New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art, warning that, in addition to losing essential grants, the abolition of the NEA would mean the loss of a vital advocate for arts and culture.

The cost of insuring exhibitions without the protection of federal indemnity would also be prohibitive, said Campbell. "Not even our museum, the largest art museum in the nation, could come close to paying the premium for such coverage without the federal indemnity the NEA makes possible," he warned.