As President Donald Trump prepares to release his budget, he has once again taken to the Internet to seek input from his supporters, and funding for arts programs appears squarely in his sights.
Identifying itself as "Trump Headquarters," the Republican National Committee sent an e-mail survey asking recipients how they would like him to deal with funding for various programs, including the National Endowment for the Arts. The RNC and administration earlier issued a similar survey on what Trump should prioritize in his first days in office, how he should deal with the mainstream media and other issues.
Making the current survey's list of 25 issues alongside nation building and social security, is whether to continue funding the NEA, which has regularly drawn the ire of Republicans, including former President Ronald Reagan, over some of the works that have been supported, with photographs by Andres Serrano and Robert Mapplethorp being two notable, if extreme, examples.
"President Trump is putting the finishing touches on our America First budget," the e-mail said, adding that Trump first needs input from "grassroots leaders."
The NEA is Number 10 on the list; for each item, the survey allows for one of five funding choices: increase, stay the same, cut, eliminate or "no opinion."
Trump proposed a budget, but Congress has to approve it, so the proposed budget is usually the beginning of a process, not the end piont, though with Republicans in control of Congress and the White House, the odds of a proposal making it to the finish line increase.
There were reports that Trump might not be looking to zero out the agency altogether and, in fact, might be looking to have actor Sylvester Stallone head it, but Stallone apparently was not interested. More recent reports were that the agency's budget could indeed be on the chopping block, or at least the major slashing block.
Trump campaign supporter and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich attempted unsuccessfully to defund NEA in the 1990s.
The NEA is the independent government agency established in 1965 to partner with federal, state and local agencies and funding sources to support arts learning and equal access to the arts, according to the agency, which has awarded more than $5 billion over that time.
Examples of the NEA's 2015 awards, the most recent year reported, include partnering with Playbill and Disney to create a Musical Theater Songwriting Challenge for high school students, sponsoring poetry reading competitions, and funding fellowships in writing and translation. The agency's total budget was a little less than $150 million, equivalent to about one sixteenth of one stealth bomber.
The NEA has sponsored 30,000 concerts, readings and performances, as well as more than 5,000 exhibitions (attended by 33 million people), and supported performances on broadcasting and cable to at least 360 million more.
The NEA also has helped create art therapy for injured servicemen and partnered with the White House for its 2014 holiday tour.