Possible cuts to the NEA pose threat to local arts, including The Missouri Review

The Missouri Review editor Speer Morgan: “It’s going to be terribly destructive in comparison to what it costs the taxpayers."
If President Trump's elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts were to take effect, The Missouri Review is one of many departments that could take a financial hit.

The Missouri Review, a literary magazine based at MU, could take a financial hit if a January proposal by President Donald Trump’s transition team to eliminate National Endowment for the Arts were to take effect.

In January, Trump’s transition team announced proposed budget cuts across many departments of federal spending, according to The Hill. One of the many proposals was to completely eliminate the National Endowment for the Arts, which partially funds some arts organizations in Columbia.

The NEA is a program created by Congress in 1968 that provides grants for arts organizations and has a focus on supporting entities that promote arts education and cultural heritage.

The Missouri Review is one of America’s most prestigious quarterly literary magazines, and it’s partially funded by the NEA.

“The Missouri Review would not have gotten through tough times without NEA grants,” Speer Morgan, editor of The Missouri Review, said.

Back in the late ’70s, Morgan served on the National Endowment for the Arts Literature Panel. He is also a professor in the English department.

Morgan helped found The Missouri Review in 1978. Because of his place on the literature panel, he started applying for NEA grants early in The Missouri Review’s history. During those years, the grants were extremely helpful.

“In 1985, we had a tiny budget,” Morgan said. “We were very dependent on the NEA and could not have survived in those years without help from the NEA. We got a piece of fiction from Naguib Mahfouz.”

At the time, Mahfouz was a relatively unknown writer, but the then-editors of the magazine published it just “because it was good.” A couple years later, Mahfouz became the first Arab to win the Nobel Prize in literature.

Morgan said they “can afford to be complete idealists” in the content they publish because The Missouri Review is noncommercial and does not take advertisements.

The Missouri Review typically receives a $10,000 grant from the NEA each year. In the past, the grant was a crucial part of their budget, but now they have over $1.5 million in secured gifts and a $400,000 trust fund.

The Missouri Review was able to grow a large financial base because it diversified its sources throughout its growth.

“For reasons of safety, we have had to be broader in our fundraising,” Morgan said.

The Missouri Review projects to grow their $400,000 trust to $2 million in three years. Morgan ultimately is not worried about The Missouri Review’s financial security, but he is worried for smaller magazines and the impact their loss would have on the community.

“It would not be as destructive to The Missouri Review as it would to other, smaller magazines,” Morgan said. “I’m really worried in particular about that because all the literary magazines form a community, and they are the prime resource for early career publication of significant young writers.”

Art organizations that are more costly to run than literary magazines, such as orchestras and ballets, will be even more damaged without programs like the NEA, Morgan said.

“It’s going to be terribly destructive in comparison to what it costs the taxpayers,” Morgan said.

The NEA’s annual budget is about $150 million, which makes up around .003 percent of federal spending. If every person living in America paid for a proportional share of the NEA, they would each pay around $0.46 a year.

“It’s such a miniscule amount of money and yet it is very, very important,” The Missouri Review marketing director Kristine Somerville said.

Somerville said that trying to convey why the arts matter can be difficult, especially for people who were never really exposed to them.

“Not everyone values the arts the way that people who grow up writing and reading do,” Somerville said. “I mean, we have a president who watches television. He doesn’t profess to be much of a reader. So, if you’re not engaged in theatre and engaged in literature and engaged in film and ballet and the symphony, then you’re just not going to know how crucial it is.”

Somerville said that, for example, the city of Columbia is lucky to have such a thriving art scene and that you could feasibly go to a different performance, gallery, concert or screening every night.

“During World War II, Churchill was asked to cut funding for the arts. He replied, ‘Then what are we fighting for?’” Somerville said. “I mean, you can’t have a country unless you have the arts.”

If cuts to funding begin, Somerville and Morgan said organizations will need to get creative and likely have to cut down on content. They said organizations supported by institutions, such as universities, would need to keep on their toes as well.

“If they have institutional support, their institutions will need to step up,” Morgan said. “And now is a tough time for institutions like the University of Missouri, which is having its budget cut.”

Morgan said he has worked long enough to know it was not safe for the magazine to rely only on a couple sources of funding because “you’ve got to really expand your base of support.”

“I guess if you say that, then someone like Trump who is a businessperson would say, ‘Well this forces the arts to be self-supporting,’” Somerville added from across the room. “Yet that’s crazy because it’s the country’s responsibility, too, to preserve arts for their children.”

Edited by Kyle LaHucik | klahucik@themaneater.com

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