Oakland organizations brace for potential budget cuts


Under Trump's proposed budget, the Carnegie Museums would lose significant funding. (Photo by Anna Bongardino | Visual Editor)

By Henry Glitz | News Editor

Scattered on the walls throughout the Carnegie Museum of Art’s galleries are small red, white and blue stars with small texts accompanying each.

The nearby plaques explain the reason for the stars existence — to highlight the impacts of federal funding on museums and the importance of museums to the community.

The campaign is a reaction to President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, which would eliminate funding altogether for the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. A sign by the entrance of the museum explains that grants from such federal funding bodies help institutions such as it make the arts, sciences and humanities more accessible to the public.

The proposed cuts would not only affect the Carnegie Museums’ ability to provide cultural enrichment to the local community, but its capacity to execute basic responsibilities, said museum media director Betsy Momich.

“For example the museum houses and preserves archives of local historical information for the community,” Momich said. “Any dramatic cut in funding could really hurt communities.”

At some locations, the inscriptions list the statistical impacts of local museums — they reach 1.4 million people annually, maintain 1,000 jobs in the local economy and provide educational experiences for as many as 400,000 schoolchildren in a year, the signs say.

The Museum isn’t planning on staying silent as Congress considers Trump’s proposed budget cuts this fall. In addition to the sign campaign it’s launched, the museum is advocating for itself to the general public as well.

“We’re joining with the rest of the museum community nationally to remind legislators of the impact of museums as community builders,” Momich said, specifically mentioning the lobbying efforts of groups like the Greater Pittsburgh Arts Council and the American Association of Museums that the museum holds membership in. “There’s also a lot of this going on behind the scenes.”

One of the public pushes for museums is the American Association of Museum’s Museums Advocacy Day. However, the event, planned for February 26 and 27, 2018, in Washington, D.C., won’t take place until after fiscal year 2018’s budget has already passed into law.

Momich explained that, even though the Carnegie Museums rely less on federal funds than other small-local arts organizations, it would still stand to lose significantly if the president’s budget cuts were passed in their entirety.

The museums received $1.7 million in support from the NEA and the NEH and $4.5 million in other federal support for museums and libraries since 2010, Momich said.

But artistic organizations wouldn’t be the only local groups that President Trump’s budget proposal would affect were it to pass into law as is. Julie Platt, a graduate student at Pitt’s School of Social Work, worried about the potential effects of cuts to the federal — as well as the state — budget on members of marginalized communities.

“The proposed cuts in the House of Representatives’ federal budget and the GOP-proposed state budget cuts will lead to devastating impacts on many of the people and communities [social workers] serve,” Platt said.

Another student at the School of Social Work, Andrew Perrow, described the repercussions cuts to public service program funds could have. Perrow, whose academic focuses are on the effects such programs have in society, explained that robust federal action and funding is often required to combat some of the worst social ills in the region.

Some in social work profession fear the impact of potential budget cuts on marginalized communities. (Photo by Anna Bongardino | Visual Editor)

“Two of the biggest issues in southwestern Pennsylvania right now are housing — affordable housing — and community development programs,” Perrow said.

He added that both of these issue areas would face defunding in Trump’s proposal.

“Trump’s budget would completely eliminate community development grants,” he said. “[The Department of Housing and Urban Development] is looking at big cuts as well. If the bill were to be passed, you’d see a lot more people being priced out of housing.”

What’s more, while problems relating to housing and community cohesion would likely become worse, Perrow suggested that the ability of social workers like himself to solve the problems would lessen as well.

“Of course we rely on aid to the state — we’d be out of jobs [if the budget passed],” Perrow said. “But the problem still exists, the problems aren’t going away.”

Social workers aren’t the only local professionals whose fields rely on federal funding and who look apprehensively at large-scale federal budget cuts — the work of Pitt’s researchers might also be at risk.

The president’s proposed budget would strike out as much as 11 percent of the funding that the National Science Foundation — a federal institute that funds scientific research — receives annually. And Pitt, which ranks among the largest recipients of NSF funding in the country, would likely feel the pain.

Pitt laboratories would unquestionably be affected by the proposed cuts, according to Arvind Suresh, spokesperson for the office of Pitt School of Medicine Dean Arthur Levine. However, he added, it’s impossible to know just yet how much damage the cuts will do. Pitt received $760 million in federal research funds, according to a 2015 budget presentation.

In a statement released May 2017, Association of American Universities President Mary Sue Coleman said the proposed cuts to federal funding of research “would effectively cripple our nation’s scientific efforts … and hobble our ability to provide tomorrow’s cures and technologies.”

For now, researchers can do little but wait anxiously to see just how much research will contract with the upcoming year’s federal budget. Momich advised that cuts, even in seemingly unimportant areas, could have unintended consequences, as federal museum funding went to scientific research being done by the Carnegie Museum of Natural History.

“We fulfill a lot of roles,” she said. “That’s what we’re here to do. And budget cuts make it just that much harder.”

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