Since its founding in 1965 by Lyndon Johnson, no president has proposed eliminating all funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, and there is a good reason for it: Using a relatively tiny budget of approximately $142 million per year, the NEA has proven that the arts, culture, and design can be important tools in regenerating neighborhoods, increasing opportunity, and increasing levels of civic engagement.
There are encouraging signs of bipartisan pushback against the Trump Administration’s call to defund it entirely: A recent New York Times article reports that 11 Republican members of the House of Representatives have joined 140 of their Democratic colleagues in signing a letter supporting more funding for the NEA, not less. Whatever their political reasons may be, the decision is a profoundly practical one: Members of Congress see firsthand how NEA dollars have played a catalytic role in strengthening the neighborhoods, towns, and cities in their districts.
For Van Alen, beautiful, accessible, and healthy public spaces are important in the life of every community, no matter how big or small. Streets, sidewalks, squares, and community facilities are where people get a chance to see each other: where they play, exchange ideas, flirt, daydream, relax, and watch the world go by. Our work is devoted to improving cities, landscapes, and regions, and through them, to improving people’s everyday lives. The NEA has helped us do this in many different ways, from their current support of our video series Van Alen Sessions, which allows us to spread our reach well beyond our New York base, to earlier competitions like Life at the Speed of Rail and Parks for the People, which asked people to reimagine the very landscapes around them and make them more accessible and connected. These projects, and others like them, were important in shaping our understanding of our role as a civic organization, and of the wide range of pressing challenges we can tackle using the tools of design.
As an organization, our mandate includes standing in support of the mission and work of the National Endowment for the Arts, and we hope that you will join us and make your voice heard.