A new study indicates that contrary to the argument that without federal funding, those “starving artists” just won’t make it, the U.S. government sends millions of dollars every year to organizations that are worth billions.

Michael McGrady writes for the Heartland Institute of a recent audit of the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities, which is responsible for the National Endowment of the Arts, National Endowment for the Humanities and the Institute of Museum and Library Services, gave more than $441 million to some 3,000 groups in 2016.

Seventy-one of those groups, which received about $20.5 million of the total, already had assets above $1 billion.


The audit of the agency was conducted and published by Open The Books, a project of the non-profit American Transparency, which aims to limit government by exposing how it spends taxpayer funds.

Adam Andrzejewski, the chief operating officer of American Transparency, said the “argument for public funding of the arts goes something like this: If you eliminate public funding of the arts, then the starving artists will go away, and you need this to have a vibrant culture in our country.”

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McGrady said the audit found that most of the grants don’t go to starving artists.

“They go to well-heeled, asset-rich organizations. In fact, about $8 out of every $10 go to organizations with high assets,” he said.

McGrady also cited Jonathan Bydlak, president of the Coalition to Reduce Spending, who said government bureaucrats use arts subsidies to tell artists what to say and how to say it.

“This opens up the door to all sorts of perverse incentives, and doesn’t exactly support true creativity,” he said.

The study states:

“Every year, celebrities such as Katy Perry, Pharrell Williams, Madonna, Alex Rodriguez and Jennifer Lopez grace the red carpet at the ‘Met Gala,’ a benefit for New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The star power helps the organization raise up to $300 million annual. Since 2009, however, the Met has received federal grants totaling $1.2 million from the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities (NFA-H). The Met can’t argue that it needed the money – it has more than $3.7 billion in financial assets.”

The full report is here.

The report said that in the arts community, there is “a stark contrast between the haves and the have-nots.”

“We found 71 charitable organizations – with at least $1 billion each in assets – received nearly $120 million in federal funding since 2009. Then, there were the ‘starving artist’ organizations – 1,027 organizations with assets under $1 million – that received just $41 million in federal grants (FY2016).”

The report noted President Trump wants to eliminate federal funding for arts and is getting resistance from wealthy arts organizations, raising several questions for the American public:

  • “Why are taxpayers funding nonprofits that have assets of at least $1 billion? Do charities have a right to public funding no matter how strong their balance sheet?”
  • “If the public purpose is to fund the starving artist, then why are small organizations (less than $1 million in assets) receiving just $1 of every $4 in NFA-H nonprofit grant-making?”
  • “Should prestigious universities receive arts and humanities funding despite their billion-dollar endowments?”
  • “Who can explain the public purpose in forcing working-class taxpayers to fund arts organizations that obviously don’t need the money?”

The study found there were 71 groups worth more than $1 billion each that got a total of $20.5 million, even though the groups have a cumulative worth of $366 billion.

Then there were 39 groups worth between $500 million and $1 billion each that got $4.8 million, even though their cumulative worth is $27 billion.

“Higher education institutions received $45 million in NFA-H grants (FY2016). These 258 institutes had existing assets totaling $428.3 billion, including their affiliated foundation or endowment,” the report said.

It also revealed that the average salary for staff members at the federal operation was nearly $100,000.

Among the recipients were the Art Institute of Chicago, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, Lyric Opera of Chicago and Lincoln Center.

“The Metropolitan Museum of Art is a public charity with $4 billion in assets. Yet, the Met received $1.22 million in grants and contracts from the NFA-H (FY2009-2016). Calendar year 2016 was the biggest year of NFA-H grants to the Met, which received $551,028,” the report found.

The New York Shakespeare Festival, the driving force behind the controversial “Julius Caesar” production that portrayed the killing of a figure representing President Trump, got $630,000 from the NEA since 2009, the report said.

NBC News said the actor “looks like Donald Trump … moves like Trump … is knifed to death on stage, blood staining his white shirt.”

The Feminist Press, which specialists in “classic LGBT titles,” recently got $55,000 to “support the publication of books of fiction and nonfiction,” the report said, and the NFA-H gave $15,000 to Fresh Meat Productions, a “transgender and queer arts dance producer.”

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