Murkowski at odds with Trump’s call to end NEA funding

Sen. Lisa Murkowski speaks to reporters in one of the Senate’s more ornate rooms. (Photo by Liz Ruskin/Alaska Public Media)

President Trump’s budget outline calls for eliminating funding for the National Endowment for the Arts. The NEA has been a frequent target of Republicans, but U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski supports the endowment, and Tuesday she won the 2017 Congressional Arts Leadership Award.

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Americans for the Arts, in a press release explaining the award, said Murkowski “has consistently supported fair and reasonable funding levels” for the NEA.

The Alaska Republican said her position isn’t related to her party affiliation.

“When you think about our day to day world, our culture, the things that we celebrate, the things that we identify with arts are so much a part of what it is that we do,” Murkowski said.

Last year the government spent nearly $150 million on the NEA. Alaska received about $1 million of that in grants, primarily to the state Council on the Arts.

How much the NEA receives this year will depend, as always, on Congress, and Murkowski chairs the Senate Appropriations subcommittee that oversees endowment funding.  She cited art exposure for children and a new therapeutic arts program for military members at JBER among the reasons to continue government support.

Murkowski said the arts are worthy of support, “Whether it’s our Alaska native leaders and how they are building on their initiatives, or whether it’s the arts that you see in the building we’re standing in now.” She glanced up as she spoke. She happened to be talking to reporters in one of the Senate’s most richly ornate rooms, a lobby off the Senate chamber that’s coated in portraits, frescoes and Rococo decor.

Government money for the NEA has plunged substantially since the 1990s, when Republicans railed against a few controversial exhibits. Back then, Alaska Congressman Don Young took particular issue with support for Robert Mapplethorpe photographs.

But in its annual report card on Congress, Americans for the Arts gave Congressman Young a “thumbs up” last year, in part for putting his name to letters supporting arts funding. As for Sen. Dan Sullivan, the arts group liked that he voted for an education bill.

Liz Ruskin is the Washington, D.C., correspondent for Alaska Public Media. She reports from the U.S. Capitol and from Anchorage. Reach her at

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