Go back

Artistic differences

Image by Grace Gay for Research Professional News

US arts and humanities researchers get warm words but little cold, hard cash

Hands up, all readers who know that October is National Arts and Humanities Month.

If you don’t, that’s OK. The designation doesn’t carry a lot of deep significance, although it is a good excuse for arts organisations to step up their public outreach. It’s also a time when political leaders—mostly Democrats, it has to be said—have historically expressed their support for the arts by telling us just how much taxpayer money they’ve spent on them.

That’s exactly the tack that president Joe Biden took on 30 September, when he noted the millions of dollars his administration had committed to the arts and called on the people of the US to observe National Arts and Humanities Month with “appropriate programmes, ceremonies and celebrations”.

“We have invested hundreds of millions of dollars in strengthening the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and our American Rescue Plan allocated over a billion more to help museums, libraries, theatres, concert halls and other venues recover from the pandemic,” he said.

As Playbook readers will know, the NEA and the NEH are the preeminent federal funders of arts and humanities research.

The NEH proudly states that it has awarded “more than $5.6 billion for humanities projects through more than 64,000 grants” since its foundation in 1965. The NEA, established in the same year, has awarded over $5bn.

Both those numbers and Biden’s sound impressive. But only until you consider that the National Science Foundation has a budget of $8.8bn a year.

Support for the arts and humanities represents a tiny slice of the total federal budget. And it has been shrinking for decades.

The not-for-profit organisation Americans for the Arts estimates that if the NEA had maintained the 0.107 per cent share of non-defence discretionary spending it held in 1984, the 2018 NEA budget would have been $771.5 million instead of $152.8m.

The budget for the NEH has also shrunk significantly since its heyday in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1979, the NEH received appropriations the equivalent of $425.4m in today’s money, when adjusted for inflation.

By comparison, for the fiscal year 2022, the NEH received appropriations of $180m.

Arts as football

Funding for the NEA and the NEH has become a political football in recent years, with former president Donald Trump unsuccessfully threatening to cut hundreds of millions of dollars from four cultural federal agencies—the NEH, the NEA, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting—in his 2018 presidential budget.

For FY22, Biden proposed a 20 per cent increase for the NEA and a 6 per cent increase for the NEH, taking funding levels to $201m and $177.55m, respectively. Each ultimately received $180m—an increase of 7.5 per cent for both.

The Biden administration’s FY23 budget request includes $200.68m for the NEH and $203.55m for the NEA.

While the House has already passed budgets of $207m each for the NEA and the NEH, the Senate has not yet completed its appropriations. Congress has already blown past the deadline to determine the FY23 budget, passing a continuing resolution on 30 September to extend funding for the federal government through to 16 December, meaning that we don’t yet know how much money the NEH and the NEA will receive.

Arts advisers

In the meantime, it will be interesting to see which cultural titans will join Biden’s newly reinstated President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities, and whether their clout might lead to more generous federal support.

The board, which was reinstated by Biden via executive order on 30 September, will include the chair of the NEA, the chair of the NEH, the director of the Institute of Museum and Library Services and up to 25 people who don’t work for the federal government who will be selected by the president.

The librarian of Congress, the secretary of the Smithsonian Institution, the director of the National Gallery of Art and the chair of the Board of Trustees of the John F Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts will be invited to serve as additional, non-voting members of the committee.

The committee, established in 1982 under president Ronald Reagan, was dissolved under president Trump following a spectacular mass resignation over Trump’s ‘both sides’ response to Charlottesville. While Trump clearly didn’t care for the arts as much as his successor, he cannot be accused of shying away from drama.

Politicians may praise themselves for their largesse towards the arts and humanities this month, but they generally do little to alleviate chronic underfunding at other points in the year.

And if you hear someone saying the arts and humanities do not need more funding, remember that October is also National Sarcastic Awareness Month.

And finally…

A depressing survey from the Global Young Academy says that researchers are increasingly “shying away” from doing fundamental research because it is too difficult to secure funding for it.

The group representing young researchers fears that young people could be put off a career in science entirely, due to the perception that money to do such exploratory research is drying up globally.

This perception is already having an impact, said Global Young Academy associate Binyam Mendisu.

“We can see that researchers are increasingly shying away from fundamental research in low-, middle- and high-income countries, citing changes to research funding. There is a perceived shift in government priorities towards applied research and away from fundamental or basic science,” he warned.

And finally finally…

Disputed voting and contested wins have spread to science: 747, aka Bearforce One, was crowned the victor of Katmai National Park’s Fat Bear Week last week—but only after late controversy.

With just hours of voting left for viewers to decide between 747 and mama bear Holly, a flood of 9,000 votes came in for Holly.

Fortunately, the hackers’ plan was scuppered and 747’s coronation was assured, with 37,940 legitimate votes to Holly’s 30,430.

Highlights from Research Professional News this week

Lindsay McKenzie reports that the White House has published a National Strategy for the Arctic Region, updating its plans for activities including research for the first time since 2013.

She also brings us news that the White House’s Office of Science and Technology Policy has published a ‘blueprint for a bill of rights’ for artificial intelligence, which is intended to help guide the responsible design, development and deployment of AI and other automated systems.

In our news roundup, the announcement of the 2022 Nobel Prize winners has prompted calls for a long-term approach to funding basic research.

In the news

The New York Times reports that some colleges are teaming up to survive, and there’s a look at whether startups can significantly lower the cost of gene sequencing.

In The Washington Post, a physicist has made 1,750 Wikipedia biographies for female scientists who haven’t been given enough recognition.

Politico says that the White House has unveiled an application form for the president’s student debt relief, and an opinion piece considers a million-dollar tuition bill for the top 1 per cent.

In The Wall Street Journal, colleges have skirted disclosure requirements on bank partnerships, a Purdue student has been charged with murder, Stanford University has apologised for limiting Jewish student admissions in the 1950s, a judge is weighing the Biden administration’s student loan forgiveness plan, and American universities are faltering in world rankings.

The Associated Press reports that the US has opted not to rebuild its renowned Puerto Rico telescope.

Science looks at what can be done about female researchers being cited less than their male counterparts, and lower socioeconomic status hinders people’s sense of belonging in academia.

Nature reports that the Arecibo telescope will not be rebuilt, authors’ names have an ‘astonishing’ influence on peer reviewers, there’s a big chance for science at the heart of global policymaking, and a podcast explores why the mid-career stage in science can feel like a second puberty.

The week ahead


The Science and Human Rights Coalition of the American Association for the Advancement of Science will hold its annual conference this week.

The National Academy of Medicine, as part of its annual meeting, will host a virtual and in-person symposium on revolutionising the biomedical and health sciences.

The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine’s Committee on Earth Sciences and Applications from Space will hold its autumn meeting today and tomorrow.


The National Institutes of Health will host the 57th meeting of its Advisory Committee on Research on Women’s Health.

The National Institute of Standards and Technology will host a webinar reviewing the R&D programme described in the recent Chips for America Strategy Paper.

Mark Mascal, a Jefferson science fellow of the National Academies, will present his work on electric vehicles.

The National Academies’ Government-University-Industry Research Roundtable will convene a meeting for its membership and invited guests to discuss the role of workforce development in supporting national innovation capacity.


The National Academies’ Action Collaborative on Preventing Sexual Harassment in Higher Education will meet for an in-person and virtual summit on Wednesday and Thursday.

The National Academies’ Aeronautics and Space Engineering Board will hold its 170th meeting online and at the National Academy of Sciences’ Beckman Center in Irvine, California, on Wednesday and Thursday. The academies’ Committee on Biological and Physical Sciences in Space and the Air Force Studies Board will also hold their autumn meetings.

The Food and Drug Administration will hold its 12th Annual Global Summit on Regulatory Science from Wednesday to Friday.


The National Academies will host a discussion on science communication during public health emergencies.

The National Academies’ Committee on Science, Engineering, Medicine and Public Policy will gather for its biannual meeting.

The National Academies will also host an information-gathering session on accelerating decarbonisation in the US, and a discussion on extreme heat.

The National Science Foundation will host a webinar to discuss how researchers can develop simpler machine learning models. It will also hold an information webinar on the Integrative Research in Biology programme.


The National Science Foundation will discuss the impact of the current economic climate on research.

The Playbook would not be possible without Lindsay McKenzie, Martyn Jones, Craig Nicholson and Daniel Cressey.

Thanks for reading. Have a great day.