In the latest proposed federal budget from the Trump administration, some major cuts were proposed. The complete revocation of the “Meals on Wheels” budget might have been the potential slash to garner the most outrage and news attention, but anger over the same fate possibly coming to the National Endowment of the Arts wasn’t far behind in the “indignant” column. In his budget, Trump wants to completely cut all funding for the NEA, as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities and more than a dozen other valuable agencies.
In the face of such shocking cuts and the risk of losing any federal funding at all for the agency, many political minds and celebrities spoke out about the importance of the NEA. Robert Redford is the latest actor to insist that the NEA stay funded and explained why in an open letter on the Sundance Institute’s website called “The NEA Must Survive — And Thrive.” You can read the entirety of the letter on the site, but certain passages stand out for how personal they are to Redford and the Sundance empire he has built over the years.
Redford recalls how the NEA gave Sundance $25,000 to support their first labs for independent filmmakers, a program that is still around today and welcomes talented artists each year. The Endowment also helped the Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid actor grow the Sundance Film Festival, which any movie fan is well aware of when it is held each year. Redford says,
The NEA also very clearly helped us create the Sundance Film Festival, which turned into the leading international showcase for new voices and new artists to launch their work and find audiences for stories outside the mainstream. No one has been more surprised than me at how far it’s gone, and today the Festival brings millions of dollars of revenue to Utah over a 10-day period – proving that art can be an economic force.
The most important and resonant passage is the one in which Redford directly ties the NEA’s impact on the American dream and support to fresh voices who may not be able to find such support from other organizations.
The proposed defunding of the NEA’s budget would gut our nation’s long history of support for artists and arts programs and it would deprive all our citizens of the culture and diversity the humanities brings to our country.
This is entirely the wrong approach at entirely the wrong time. We need to invite new voices to the table, we need to offer future generations a chance to create, and we need to celebrate our cultural heritage.
I believe the NEA must not only survive, but thrive. Which is why I’m asking you to please join me in adding your voice to the chorus of concerned citizens by contacting your congressional representative and voicing your opposition to these cuts and in favor of continued support for the role the arts play in enriching our American story.
It’s a convincing letter, but it would be reasonable to think that if members of the Trump administration haven’t been convinced of the NEA’s importance by now, then they never will. Either way, there’s always a chance that the next open letter will be the one to make a difference. It’s far better to have major people in the industry speaking out than having them settle for whatever political moves are being made with no resistance.