The National Gallery of Art opened on Saint Patrick’s Day in 1941. In the dedication speech on opening day President Roosevelt said, “To accept this work today is to assert the purpose of the people of America — that the freedom of the human spirit and human mind which has produced the world’s great art … shall not be utterly destroyed.”
Fast forward seventy-six years and ‘utterly destroying’ the arts is exactly what Donald Trump plans with his budget proposal that slashes Arts and Cultural Agencies by nearly $1 billion dollars under the pretext of keeping Americans safe and funding his pet project, the “beautiful” wall (yes, you and I are paying, just look at the budget.)
Here’s the short list of the impact for anyone who appreciates the arts:
- Eliminates all $148 million for the National Endowment for the Arts and all $148 million for the National Endowment for the Humanities
- Eliminates the $230 million Institute of Museum and Library Services
- Eliminates the $445 million for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports public television and radio, including PBS and NPR
To put his budget proposal into perspective, these cuts to Arts and Cultural agencies could be fully restored by reducing the budget increase for Defense by less than 2%, which would still leave nearly a $53 billion increase to the obscene and waste-filled $639 billion Defense budget. Anyone with a sliver of budget sense knows if you want to save money you go after the cash cows, not the low-hanging fruit.
Ironically, the inspiration behind the National Gallery was a wealthy industrialist like Trump, but unlike the President, Andrew Mellon had vision. He understood there was more to the human spirit than flexing muscles and bragging about wealth. Mellon was only 25 when he got the idea for the gallery on a trip to Europe when he became an enthusiastic art collector and then continued to buy pieces slowly over the decades. In the late 1920s, he served as ambassador to Great Britain, and he was inspired by the National Gallery in London to create something similar in the United States.
In 1930, he had the rare opportunity to purchase art from the Hermitage, the greatest art museum in Russia, at the order of Stalin to raise money for the government by selling valuable pieces. How shortsighted. Mellon purchased 21 paintings, including work by Raphael, Rembrandt, Botticelli, Titian, and Jan van Eyck. In 1936, he wrote to President Roosevelt offering to donate his collection, as well as $15 million to build a museum that would house it. Mellon had the vision for a national museum of the highest quality, and insisted that it should not be named after him, figuring that other art collectors would be more likely to donate to a place called the National Gallery of Art than the Mellon Gallery. Imagine such a selfless leader today.
Admission is always free to the public. More than 4.5 million people visit the National Gallery each year to view its 120,000 pieces of art.
Don’t cut the arts!