Members of the Yale community, particularly those in the arts and humanities, are expressing concerns about President Donald Trump’s proposed federal budget, which eliminates the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The two endowments, which were created in 1965 and provide funding and support to individuals and institutions in arts and humanities, have awarded grants to faculty members and graduate students at Yale as well as University institutions such as the Yale University Art Gallery and the Yale Repertory Theatre. According to Dean of the Faculty of Arts and Sciences Tamar Gendler, Yale has received about 20 grants from the NEA and about 25 from the NEH in the last decade.
“The zeroing out of the national endowments for the arts and humanities is quite simply a horrendous idea,” University President Peter Salovey told the News. “Our country is so enriched by the programs and projects that those endowments support, and the amount of money involved is extremely small relative to other federal expenditures. I think cutting those endowments is a truly bad idea.”
The combined annual budgets of both endowments represent about $300 million out of a total $1.1 trillion of annual discretionary spending. Trump’s preliminary budget proposal, released on March 16, reduces funding for 19 different federal agencies to offset increases in defense spending.
According to Gendler, the relationship between the endowments and the University goes back to 1966, when the NEH issued its first grant to the American Society of Papyrologists to conduct a summer institute at Yale.
She added that more recent humanities grants have supported archiving and editing projects such as the Franklin Papers, digital access projects like Photogrammar and scholarly research projects undertaken by faculty in departments ranging from Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations to Political Science. Other humanities grants have also funded art conservations and exhibitions at the YUAG and the Institute for Preservation of Cultural Heritage, Gendler said, and both endowments have sponsored conferences and events that Yale faculty members have attended.
Victoria Nolan, deputy dean of the School of Drama and managing director of the Yale Repertory Theatre, said the NEA has supported the Yale Rep since the Rep’s inception in 1966. The NEA provides annual grants to the Yale Rep for a range of projects that showcase artistic excellence and provide access to art, Nolan said, calling the hundreds of thousands of dollars received over the years “irreplaceable.” James Bundy DRA ’95, dean of the School of Drama and artistic director of the Yale Rep, added that the effects of a reduced or eliminated endowment would be immediate, as the Rep would lose a significant amount of funding and have to shrink programming or put on “less challenging fare” which would not advance the field.
“The NEA has always served as an imprimatur of excellence, a signal to the wider funding community that our work is of the highest standard,” Nolan said. “In this way, the NEA has helped us leverage significant support from foundations and corporations. So the loss of the NEA will impact our ability to raise funds elsewhere.”
The Drama School itself is not supported by the endowment, Bundy said, as NEA funding for theater conservatories was terminated over two decades ago.
Both Bundy and Nolan signed a statement explaining the importance of the NEA’s support for the Rep and other New Haven organizations. The statement — which provides contact information for Connecticut legislators and urges audience members to contact their elected representatives to register their support of the endowment — will be distributed to everyone attending performances of its current production, Stephen Sondheim’s “Assassins.” Bundy said it is part of their job as leaders of the Rep to keep audiences informed about public policy and its impact on the institution, as well as to mobilize grass-roots support for policies that represent “sound national investments in the arts.”
The YUAG also relies on support from the arts endowment, as it has received a total of $388,000 over the past decade for a variety of projects including exhibitions, publications, permanent collection reinstallations and conservation projects, according to Deputy Director for Advancement Jill Westgard.
Westgard said the endowment also supports arts organizations through its Federal Indemnity Program, which subsidizes the costs of insuring international exhibits. The YUAG received grants of $25,000 or larger from the endowment for projects nearly every year in the past decade. Recent grants for the YUAG include a $25,000 grant for a Rhode Island furniture exhibition in 2015 and a $125,000 grant for the reinstallation of a permanent collection of ancient art galleries in 2011.
Assistant Director of Advancement Brian McGovern said that while grants for exhibitions may receive more public visibility, endowment support is also essential for many local community programs, such as after-school music lessons through Music Haven, art making for hospitalized youth at Yale New Haven Hospital and Artspaces’s monthlong Open Studios program.
“The cost to taxpayers for NEA support is negligible, however the impact is great especially to smaller organizations and communities,” McGovern said.
The National Endowment for the Arts has awarded direct grants of over $3.8 million to arts organizations in New Haven since 1998.