March 22, 2017

Donald Trump wasn’t my first choice for president. I was. But he was my second choice, and I’m proud that I supported him. In tackling the federal budget, he faces a debt that has doubled to $20 trillion in the past eight years. No doubt a chainsaw seems more appropriate to the task at hand than a carving knife, but I would urge my president and friend to hold back from one tiny area of the budget whose elimination would cost far more than it would save.

Funding for the National Endowment for the Arts might seem expendable — especially given how often celebrity artists insult and even threaten the president. But such hateful high-dollar Hollywood and music-industry stars don’t receive anything from the NEA, and they shouldn’t. Not because of their insufferable political whining, but because they get rich selling their talents to the highest bidder in the private sector. I have zero interest in spending a dime of tax money to prop up those who hate the president and the tens of millions who elected him.

I do care greatly about the real recipients of endowment funds: the kids in poverty for whom NEA programs may be their only chance to learn to play an instrument, test-drive their God-given creativity and develop a passion for those things that civilize and humanize us all. They’re the reason we should stop and recognize that this line item accounting for just 0.004 percent of the federal budget is not what’s breaking the bank.

Participation in the arts leads to higher grade-point averages and SAT scores, as well as improvements in math skills and spatial reasoning. Do we want students who are less likely to drop out of school and more likely to have academic success, particularly in math and science? Music and art deliver, especially for students likely to get lost in an education assembly line that can be more Pink Floyd’s “Another Brick in the Wall” than about creative thinking and problem solving. Creativity finds cures for diseases, creates companies such as Apple and Microsoft and, above all, makes our culture more livable.

Many children get their only access to music and the arts via grants made by the NEA — 40 percent of which go to high-poverty neighborhoods, while 36 percent reach underserved people, such as veterans and those with disabilities. In fiscal 2016, NEA grants went to nearly 16,000 communities, in every congressional district in the country.

But if the decision is to be made on purely economic grounds, consider the case laid out by advocates Earle I. Mack, Randall Bourscheidt and Robert L. Lynch in a recent op-ed in the Hill: The arts are a $730 billion industry, representing 4.2 percent of our gross domestic product — more than transportation, tourism and agriculture. The nonprofit side of the arts alone generates $135 billion in economic activity, supporting 4.1 million jobs. President Trump rightfully wants to end the U.S. trade imbalance, but the American arts generated a $30 billion trade surplus in 2014, on the strength of $60 billion in exports of various arts goods.

In the past, the NEA largely subsidized individual artists, which essentially placed the government in the role of sponsor of some artists and censor of others. Thanks to reform in the 1990s, however, 40 percent of NEA funds are now channeled directly to states, to be matched and distributed, with the rest going directly to communities, arts councils, arts organizations and select individuals. This has empowered localities to offer real participation to those who otherwise would have no avenue to music or the arts.

I truly want the government to stop wasting my tax money. I want it to stop funding things that don’t work and things that get funded only because they are some congressman’s pet project or have a powerful lobby behind them. To some, it may seem as though the $147.9 million allocated to the NEA in fiscal 2016 is money to be saved. But to someone such as me — for whom an early interest in music and the arts became a lifeline to an education and academic success — this money is not expendable, extracurricular or extraneous. It is essential.

If it seems unusual that a conservative Republican would advocate for music and the arts, don’t be so surprised. The largest increase in arts funding ever came under President Richard Nixon, and when budget hawks thought about cutting the minuscule funding of the NEA in the 1980s, it was no less than President Ronald Reagan who stepped in to make sure those in our poorest neighborhoods continued to have access to this road to academic success and meaningful way to express their creative gifts.

I’m for cutting waste and killing worthless programs. I’m not for cutting and killing the hope and help that come from creativity.


This op-ed originally ran in the Washington Post.

Leave a Comment

Note: Fields marked with an * are required.

Your Information
Your Comment
BBML accepted!

Comments 1-13 of 13

  • Cari Larsen

    04/01/2017 11:12 AM

    Thank you for understanidng that arts are important to America. A society is remembered not for it's politics but the Art it creates.
    Thank you for a reasonable voice on this issue.
    Blessings, Cari

  • Bart McPherson

    03/31/2017 02:37 PM

    The p roblem with the National Endowment for the Arts is that they, along with such others as the National Public Radio have espoused radical ideas that offend the average person, particularly conservatives. And like the press, they offer little if any balance.
    I say, let them go! Out!


    03/24/2017 03:23 PM

    Thanks for supporting this. I am a musician (Piano player/singer) that has been active as a professional musician and private teacher for many years. I am now 63 years old and don't have the opportunity to play as much as I used to. As I approach the latter part of my life ( I don't say retire because I have no plan for it!) I would like to give back my talent and knowledge to kids who may not have the chances that I had growing up. In the near future I would like to seek out and donate time and talents to such kids to carry on "real" music, not manufactured sound. I have some ideas to find these students, but if you have any ideas to share I would certainly be open to them. I have earned a living playing and teaching, but the greatest reward has been to see some of my students advance to college and pursue a career down the road and that I have had the chance to share "real" music in the communities that I have lived. I'm glad that I saw you on TV discussing this yesterday and then to open your website and see your involvement in saving and funding the arts especially to underprivileged kids. By the way, I too am a Republican. Funding the rich shouldn't happen, but I don't believe we should leave those without the means behind. There is a lot of talent out there just waiting to be tapped.

  • Annita Rackley

    03/24/2017 04:44 AM

    As an art minor, I agree. Knowing the joy art brings to people during each state of life, and observing the hope art imparts to students during their formative years, convinces me that the National Endowment of the Arts is a worthy cause and a justifiable expenditure. Allow me one caveat: Art programs cannot be solely controlled by those with globalist anti-American philosophies and/or radical leftist agendas. This domination of art programs by radical leftists is more common than the average American realizes. Students with conservative values, which are bound to find expression in their art, are often actively persecuted by leftist teachers and professors.

  • Mary Senseney

    03/23/2017 09:23 PM

    Mike, yes we do need the arts and we also need the after school programs and the meals on wheels!! I hope that President Trump will listen to you! God bless you and the United States of America!

  • James A. Wetterling, J.D.

    03/23/2017 04:36 PM

    Mike, you have got to be kidding me. What in the constitution gives the federal government authority to fund the National Endowment of the Arts. This is proof positive that the system is broke, everyone in Washington has lost all perspective, and you are part of the problem. By the way, I have never before written an internet comment about anything.

  • Larry Conner

    03/23/2017 02:42 PM

    If as you say "the American arts generated a $30?billion trade surplus in 2014, on the strength of $60 billion in exports of various arts goods". Then WHY should the tax payers subsidize the arts? Where are all of the profits going? Shouldn't the people or corporations who are profiting invest some of those profits back into the source of their profits? Seems to me you want the Tax Payers to subsidize the profiteers!

  • Deborah Dedman

    03/23/2017 01:36 PM

    Defunding NEA will not mean the arts or the industry of the arts will end Mike. They mostly have other means if support. It is a message to NEA that we want art worthy to be counted Beautiful, that show talent by means of study that the artist is creating a skilled works and not a blank canvas fir almist a million dollars and promotes and inspires life and creativity. What NEA does is none of that. They encourage and fund political and egregious art, films and programs from artist that are that themselves that make the public cringe in it's vulgarity often. Take the Oscars, every movie that wins is a controversial, mostly left agenda promoting assault on values. Even in PBS. It will not change jobs at all. (PBS execs make an obscene pay scale off of govt funds and public fund raising) let the people who want that kind of trash pay for it. As a tax payer I am glad I no longer am going to be forced into complying with creating junk and filth that I would not go personally or even take my family to.
    If you can guarantee the garbage will be cut while leaving the good. I will agree but for now cutting funding seems to be the only way to say enough to those distributing the funds to what THEY want.
    Consider this, those programs would be even better if they got the money doing to the worthless pursuits but as liberals control NEA. I question even the numbers of good performance you have been given.
    Cutting NEA money needs to hapoen

  • Sarah Cantor

    03/23/2017 11:46 AM

    Dear Sir:

    Although I am squarely on the other side of the political divide from you, I found this to be an excellent and well-reasoned opinion piece. I am heartened to know that the same statistics I value about the importance of art and music to all our nation's children are also valued by you. I appreciate that you shared the importance of art and music in your own educational experience and that you want it to be someone offered to all. As you state, the amount of funding is miniscule compared to the reach and good it does for so many. Thank you; I hope that your common-sense words find resonance with those who will be deciding the budget for the coming year.

  • Rickie Miyake

    03/23/2017 11:35 AM

    I'd like to add something to my previous comment. Again, I am all in favor of the arts, but it is not the role of government to be administering that area, nor to be providing subsidies. You know what is more worthy than the arts, in my opinion? Worship of God. If we had more people in this country who worshiped God, we'd have less problems. But does that mean government should subsidize churches? That's the last thing we would want. Let the congregations support their respective churches. There are lots of worthy causes out there, but let the private sector fund them. If less of our tax dollars went to the inefficient federal system of bureaucracy, we could use them to directly fund what we felt were deserving causes, and cut out the middleman.

  • Nancy Tefft

    03/23/2017 10:47 AM

    Why is it the government's responsibility to fund the arts when the arts can be funded by the private sector?

  • Rickie Miyake

    03/23/2017 10:27 AM

    Mr. Huckabee, I receive your daily e-letter and 99% of the time I find myself nodding my head in agreement with what you have to say because it is so sensible. But I must disagree with your plea to fund the NEA.

    I agree with you that the NEA is a worthy cause, but not that it should be funded with our federal tax dollars. If in fact the impressive numbers you cite are true, such as the arts being a $730 billion industry of which the non-profit side generates $135 billion in economic activity, then why do they need our tax dollars for support? Why not ask those who benefit from this to be donors?

    Even so, if tax dollars are to be used as subsidies then why not fund from the local level, rather than having local dollars paid as federal income taxes being given back to the local level but minus the amount that gets wasted at the federal level? I can understand redistribution taking place, using taxes received from more affluent areas to provide arts education and experiences for less fortunate areas but I still say, let that then be done at the state rather than federal level. And let a sizable portion come from private industry and those who benefit from the arts.

    Like I said, I am all for promoting the arts because they are every bit as important as any academic egghead subject that gets the lions share of attention in this country, but it should not be funded by our federal tax dollars. Government interference is not the way.

  • Richard Becker

    03/23/2017 09:24 AM

    Governor Huckabee, You were my first choice for President also (you and Carly Fiorina). Thank you for your article. It was very enlightening. It changed my mind about funding for the arts. But I have one concern. We have all heard the story of the "crucifix in urine". I am a Catholic. How can we see that this does not happen again?