PBS on Thursday quickly responded to President Donald Trump's newly unveiled $1.15 trillion budget, a far-reaching overhaul of federal government spending that slashes many domestic programs -- including federal funding for public broadcasting -- to finance a significant increase in the military and make a down payment on a U.S.-Mexico border wall.
Other arts organizations like The Sundance Institute and The Recording Academy also raised objections to the budget plan Trump proposed that — in addition to eliminating the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which provides funding for PBS and National Public Radio stations — also proposed doing away with funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
The Hollywood unions that represent actors, directors, writers and other crew and craftsmen also all joined together to issue a joint statement urging lawmakers to preserve funding for PBS, NEA and NEH. The Directors Guild of America, SAG-AFTRA, the Writers Guild of America West and East and IATSE said that they "urge our nation's leaders to preserve funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. As a source of inspiration, action and economic growth our country's arts are integral to our culture, our American identity and our democracy. Access to the arts has fueled generations of great Americans, uplifted communities and helped heal our nation's great divides. Cutting federal support of these programs will not only hurt artists and those who benefit from their work. It will also send a damaging message to future generations about the power of art and its place in our culture."
In response to the proposed PBS cut, PBS president and CEO Paula Kerger argued that the cost of public broadcasting is small, especially compared with its benefits. The cost of public broadcasting amounts to $1.35 per citizen, per year, which is "less than a cup of coffee," Kerger told The Hollywood Reporter.
PBS encompasses nearly 350 member stations and has strong support among Republican and Democratic voters. Kerger noted that the "benefits are tangible: increasing school readiness for kids 2-8, support for teachers and homeschoolers, lifelong learning, public safety communications and civil discourse."
PBS also cited a Rasmussen Reports survey that found only 21 percent of Americans are in favor of ending taxpayer funding for public broadcasting. Another recent survey, the PBS Hart Research-American Viewpoint poll, found that 73 percent of voters are opposed to ending federal funding for public television.
The CPB was on the chopping block in the previous Republican administration of George W. Bush, and GOP aspirant Mitt Romney made headlines during a 2012 presidential debate (moderated by public broadcasting icon Jim Lehrer) when he said while he "love[s] Big Bird," he would still eliminate funding for PBS.
Kerger expressed frustration that the CPB and PBS are once again being used as a political football. "It is a puzzle to find us in this mess again, and the only thing that is giving me some solace today is to know where we sit in the minds of the American public," she said.
The American public, continued Kerger, "understand that these are tough times, that Congress has to make difficult decisions. But more than 70 percent of those who voted for President Trump said they wanted Congress to find the savings elsewhere. The fact that we’ve been zeroed out and that we’ve been called out so specifically is something that is hard to get my head around."
Kerger predicted a long and difficult road ahead, and predicts that public support from constituents may be the only thing that saves critical funding for PBS. "My hope is — as has been the case in prior times when we’ve been under assault — that people will reach out to their legislatures," she said.
Sesame Workshop, the nonprofit educational organization behind Sesame Street, also issued a statement Thursday afternoon.
"Sesame Street was created to provide early access to education for all children," the statement read. "Research shows that high-quality preschool educational experiences are a key determinant in an individual's lifelong learning outcomes. PBS makes Sesame Street available to all Americans and thereby continues to play a major role in helping less privileged kids gain access to preschool education that has proven and enduring value. While Sesame Workshop currently receives no direct funding from CPB or PBS, we stand firmly and passionately in support of the vital public investment that allows them to continue this important work."
Meanwhile, Robert Redford's Sundance Institute on Thursday issued a statement, saying it “vigorously supports the National Endowment for the Arts and calls upon our country’s leadership to do the same. NEA support played a crucial role in launching Sundance Institute in 1981 and has helped thousands of museums, arts programs and organizations. The NEA plays a critical role in building a culture that values artists and understands the important economic benefits of investing in the arts. Defunding the Endowment undermines our national artistic heritage, and handicaps our future potential."
The Recording Academy president/CEO Neil Portnow also added his voice, releasing a statement Thursday in response to the proposal to eliminate the NEA.
"Love of music and the arts brings us together, and celebrates the richness of American culture and our spirit of curiosity and creativity," said the exec. "Music and art serve as one of America’s greatest exports, and support jobs for creators in cities, towns and rural areas across the country. The White House proposal to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Arts is shortsighted and alarming. The modest support that we provide to music and the arts is returned many times over, whether measured in jobs and economic impact, or sheer cultural enrichment and introspection. The Recording Academy will ask Congress to maintain funding for the National Endowment for the Arts and renew our commitment to America’s creators."
The NEA is the federal agency, created by Congress in 1965, that offers supports and funding to arts projects and organizations around the country. In 2016, it had a total budget of $148 million.
Often the target of conservatives, the NEA survived an earlier attempt to abolish it by the Reagan administration in 1981.
Meanwhile, the Actors' Equity Association, the Content Creators Coalition, the Future of Music Coalition and the American Federation of Musicians also issued statements in support of keeping funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
"The elimination of NEA seed money for theatre is a job killer," said Actors' Equity president Kate Shindle. "Not just for the actors and musicians onstage, or the writers and creative teams who create the material. Live theatre also provides jobs for people behind the scenes, like the stage managers and crew; and the people in front of the house, like ushers, box office and concession staff as well as those who have administrative jobs. Live theatre means work for those down the block: the wait staff in the restaurant, the bartenders, the taxi drivers and the parking lot attendants, to name only a few."
The Content Creators Coalition and the Future of Music Coalition said in a joint statement: "The arts play a vital role in our culture. They help define us as a people. They help unite us as a nation. They help inspire us to explore the unknown. They help drive our economy and create American jobs. For these reasons and more, President Trump's proposed budget that guts the arts programs is indefensible. As artists, musicians, and music lovers, we stand united in asking Congress to reject these cuts, retaining support for the arts and culture, by fully funding the NEA, NEH and CPB."
Said Creative Coalition president Tim Daly: "The time has come for all Americans to stand up and call for the Right to Bear Arts. We must stand up for the right to maintain an imaginative and expressive population. And we must prevent these draconian funding cuts for the NEA from becoming a devastating reality. We cannot afford to dismiss the arts as something expendable, an unnecessary luxury or treat it as something extra, like dessert. The arts must be part of the main course."
Added Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk: "How does eliminating funding for the arts make America great? It is the arts that remind us what is great about America and inspire us to make our world a better place. Eliminating funding for the NEA will not hurt Broadway or Hollywood, but it hurts small town theaters, museums and community arts organizations. It hurts our wounded warriors who experience the healing power of the arts through their participation in NEA funded creative arts therapies. Without the NEA there will be less creativity, less imagination and less freedom of expression and that hurts all of us."
American Federation of Musicians international president Ray Hair called the proposal to end NEA funding "outrageous and unacceptable."
"There are orchestras, festivals and theaters in all 50 states that would be permanently damaged without NEA support," he said. "It is time for Congress to step up and do the right thing — safeguard the NEA by fully funding this pricelesss institution."