Joe Biden as an art aficionado

Biden, Trump Clash over Arts Budgets

By Nick Beattie

The arts and the art world have the unique ability to give the public an alternative view of the world. “The arts give the people an outlet to view the world differently,” vice-presidential candidate Kamala Harris tweeted in 2017 after President Trump threatened to eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). While it may not be an essential topic of the election, the cultural sector’s funding is indeed on the ballot. 

The two presidential candidates, incumbent President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr are complete opposites when it comes to funding the arts. However, it is more difficult to ascertain how Trump or Biden will affect the upcoming term’s cultural sector.

A President For The Rich

In his past four years, Trump has stripped funding for cultural agencies. Both his administration and congressional Republicans have presented budgets that would systematically shutter the NEA. While none of these budget proposals survived Congress, they communicate the Trump administration’s stance on the arts. Essentially, the Trump White House views the art world as a cabal for liberalism. 

It is very much a reality that the current administration has besieged the art industry during the past four years. Rather than prioritize arts funding, the Trump White House has chosen to neglect struggling artists and enact tax legislation to benefit the uber-wealthy. While this economic benefit approach might help well-endowed art collectors and museums, it leaves much of America’s poor, working artists to struggle. This is heightened even more so as much of the country’s artists are in dire need of help during this economic instability period.

Joe Biden The Art Lover

Meanwhile, the former vice president has not outlined a clear plan for the Arts over in the Biden camp. This is primarily due to it not being a vital issue for either campaign during this election cycle. Biden has been occupied laying out plans to combat the other problems like Covid-19, the economy, climate change, and systemic racism. But where he stands, vagueness on a position like the Arts is a much better position than his opponent. 

Biden has a long history of supporting the arts during his tenure in the US Senate and his eight years as vice president under Barack Obama. During his time as a Senator, Biden voted three times against amendments that would pull funding for the NEA (1993, 1997, 1999), and three times against cuts to its budget (1991, 1994, and 1997). Additionally, in 2001 Biden co-sponsored a bill creating the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress. Thirdly, in 2003, he was one of the original co-sponsors of legislation establishing the National Museum of African History and Culture in Washington, DC.

During his vice presidency, Biden worked under an administration in touch with American art and pop culture and consistently endorsed and encouraged the American People’s creative expression. While unlike a frequent purveyor of the arts like late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Joe Biden’s profile as an art buff is modest. As the vice president, Biden attended several art events, including a National Symphony Orchestra program, a gala for the Washington National Opera, the opening concert for the 2016 Ireland Festival, and an exhibition of artworks by Delaware artist Mary Page Evans at the Delaware Art Museum in 2012. Additionally, Evans’ paintings were later purchased by the former vice president and hung in Washington’s vice-presidential residence.

An Artist’s President

The art world employs 5.1 million Americans, bringing approximately $877 billion annually to the US economy. As a result, many industry leaders have voiced their support for the Biden campaign, hoping that the former vice president will throw its institutions a lifeline. The sector hopes for a repeat of 2009 during the financial crisis. Specifically, Biden was critical in negotiating a stimulus bill that included $50 million for the arts. But while Biden has not released an official arts platform, the art world supports what Biden and Harris will bring during their presidency.

Both Joe Biden and Kamala Harris hold stances on social justice issues, like race equity and immigration, that align with progressive values that most artists strive to protect. Artists, unlike lobbyists or government officials, do not seek to pen legislation. Instead, they seek to push the culture, through their art, towards a direction that aligns with their core beliefs. Thus, the art industry views Biden and Harris, albeit not their first choices for a presidential ticket, as people who can still push progressive policies.