Trump’s Shutdown: A Crisis for Professional Musicians


Photo by Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo

By Dawoud Kringle

The U.S. government has been operating under a partial shutdown since Dec. 22, 2018. Trump is in political battle, holding our nation hostage for the $5.7 billion down payment to fund a wall along the border with Mexico.

A full description of how Trump’s tyrannical temper tantrum has created damage and chaos in this country (and how his wall is a truly unworkable project) is beyond the scope of this article. Let us instead focus on how his policies are affecting the arts.

During his 2016 presidential campaign, he threatened to cut off funding to the arts. As catastrophic as this would have been, it is no surprise. Yet it would have been largely impractical for him to do so. Funding for the arts in this country constitutes a negligible percentage of the federal budget. Cutting the relatively small money the Arts receive was nothing more than cruelty; it would have helped no one. Fortunately his efforts failed. On July 28th, 2017, Trump supporter Rep. Glenn Grothmann’s (R-WI) bill to cut funding to the National Endowment of the Arts and National Endowment of the Humanities was defeated.

But professional musicians and other professional artists are beginning to suffer under Trump’s draconian actions.

The showdown in Washington has reverberated across a vast expanse of the U.S. arts community and beyond the country’s borders. It has been felt not just by the museums and their patrons, but also by students, filmmakers, domestic nonprofits, foreign artists, the National Gallery of Art, the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery, the National Archives in Washington DC, the Smithsonian museums in New York and Washington, the National Zoo, our national parks, even access to the volcanoes of Hawaii are closed without funding due to Trump’s shutdown.

Arts workers and Arts organizations are suffering, and facing extinction because of Trump.

The arts are a fragile industry. It’s not a rich, profit generating business. Federal grants are done on a reimbursement basis. Any little hiccup, whether it is the elimination of money from the National Endowment for the Arts or slowing its funding and operations, which this shutdown is doing, affects planning and production. It also damages the ability to attract other funders in a ripple effect.

There are about 100,000 nonprofit arts organizations across the country. When it comes to funding, many of them end the year having barely survived. The NEA and NEH, represent a critical boon to many of these groups. Both agencies reach thousands of small and large organizations. Receiving a grant from the NEA or NEH also helps those groups to raise funds from other sources.

The NEA announced on its website that it will honor all of its Fiscal Year 2019 grants and that it’s accepting applications for 2020. However, during the shutdown there’s nobody working at either agency.

People tend to assume that music and art just appears out of nowhere. Few people understand what needs to happen to make these performances a reality, whether domestically, or when it involves international artists and performances.

The shutdown has only compounded those complications. The business is fraught with risk. The shutdown is an unpredictable process that could damage the already fragile ecosystem of the Arts.

Every civilized nation on earth supports the arts, except the United States under the Trump administration. It’s difficult to know if Trump’s demented policies and clumsy totalitarian tactics are inadvertently affecting our artistic national treasures, or if he deliberately wishes to destroy them. Neither would be a surprise. Either way, the present administration, by spitting on its fiduciary responsibility to support our musical and artistic national treasures, has clearly declared itself an enemy of musicians and artists.

It may be time to consider a “Plan B.”