Arts advocates raise their voices

A capacity crowd of 400 rallied at the steps of City Hall in downtown Manhattan on Monday to speak out against proposed cuts to public funding of arts and culture by the Trump administration. A budget that Trump put forth in March would zero out funding for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and the Institute of Library and Museum Services.

Speakers on Monday included Talking Heads frontman (and enthusiastic visual artist) David Byrne and Broadway actors Jelani Remy and L. Steven Taylor (Simba and Mufasa in The Lion King, respectively). Accompanying the demonstration were several musicians with brass and wind instruments, serenading the speakers from a nearby section of City Hall Park.

The New York City Hall rally echoed the sentiments of a call put out by leading art figures like Marina Abramović, Laurie Anderson, Jasper Johns, Cindy Sherman, Kiki Smith, Julian Schnabel, and Richard Serra to defend public arts funding.

Local government was out in force, with Councilman Jimmy van Bramer, who emceed the event, starting things off with a fiery call to action. “Trump talks about ‘making America great again,’” he said, “but you don’t make a country great by crushing its soul.” He called Trump’s budget “an unprecedented and vicious assault” on the very idea of culture.

Byrne made an economic argument for public support of the arts, pointing out there’s a great return on investment in terms of jobs and tax revenues, and got laughs when he said, “You may hate the arts, but it’s complete stupidity to destroy this part of the economy.”

Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, managed to wring a laugh from the crowd as well, starting off by touting the city’s considerable culture budget and saying, “You want to be number one in everything, right? We are number two in funding of the arts. We do not want to be number one.”