The Facts about Funding for the Arts

Given President Trump's proposal to eliminate the NEA, now's an opportune moment to examine what we're actually spending on the arts, and where those funds are going. Get the facts here:

How much do we (as a nation) actually spend on the arts? What the US government gives to the arts is astonishingly small. The NEA got $148 million in funding in 2016, a year when the federal government spent about $3.9 trillion. At the Washington Post, Philip Bump points out that arts spending makes up less than 0.02 percent of federal spending: "put another way, if you make $50,000 a year, spending the equivalent of what the government spends on these three programs would be like spending less than $10."

The U.S. spends far, far less on arts funding than our European counterparts do. Per capita, our National Endowment for the Arts spends 1/40th of what Germany spends on the arts.

Why can't private giving be the sole supporter of the arts?

Private funding will not sustain the arts nationally if public funding goes away. Charitable giving as a whole in the United States is geographically disproportional, with rural areas receiving only 5.5% of all philanthropic dollars. NEA funding makes sure there is equitable distribution of funds, particularly for underserved communities, across the nation. Research shows that even a low level of public funding can stimulate private giving; NEA’s funding must be matched by money from other sources. So, when a nonprofit receives an NEA award, it provides the credibility for other funders to step up. In FY 2016, this additional investment resulted in $500 million in matching support.

What does the NEA actually do?

The NEA's role is to make sure all Americans have access to the arts no matter where they live. All 435 Congressional Districts benefit from NEA grants. NEA funding: 

  • Creates an environment for the arts to bloom and thrive. 
  • Acts as a catalyst to leverage resources for key investments in communities across the nation.
  • Stimulates giving; every dollar invested directly by the NEA is matched by up to $9 of additional non-federal or private investment. 
  • Contributes to our economy, with the arts and culture sector accounting for $742 billion or 4.2% of GDP.
  • Adds millions of jobs to our workforce (more than two million full-time artists and nearly five million arts-related jobs.
  • Plays a vital role in revitalizing communities, and supports our military service members through a military healing arts probram. 

Some say many of the programs the NEA funds are elitist. Is NEA funding essentially a subsidy for the wealthy?

Absolutely not. The NEA’s role is to make sure all Americans have access to the arts no matter where they live. Among the proudest accomplishments of the NEA is the growth of arts activity in areas of the nation that were previously underserved or not served at all, especially in rural and inner-city communities. In many communities, NEA grants support free performances, as well as reduced ticket prices for those who cannot afford to buy a ticket. A significant percentage of grants benefit those who have fewer opportunities to participate in the arts:

  •   65% of NEA grants go to small and medium sized organizations, which tend to support projects that benefit audiences that otherwise might not have access to arts programming.
  •   40% of NEA-supported activities take place in high-poverty neighborhoods.
  •   36% of NEA grants go to organizations that reach underserved populations such as people
  • with disabilities, people in institutions, and veterans.
  •   More than half of NEA-funded art events take place in locations where the median household income is less than $50,000. 

How does Oregon benefit from NEA funding? 

The National Endowment for the Arts allocates 40 percent ($41.2 million) of its annual appropriation to funding the nation’s state arts agencies. In 2016, Oregon received $1.53M in funding from the NEA. Most of OR state funding was distributed through the Oregon Arts Commission. In addition, direct recipients included Literary Arts (for Wordstock) and Fishtrap (for Summer Fishtrap, a week-long literary conference in northeast Oregon).