How Much is Culture Worth Compared to Melania Trump?

by Paddy Johnson and Michael Anthony Farley on March 24, 2017 · 1 comment Art and Society + Feature

Two of the most hotly discussed Trump budget items include the defunding of the NEA and escalating security costs for the First Family. Comparisons have achieved something like meme status across our Facebook and Twitter feeds, and now there’s even a Snopes article debating the veracity of BOMB Magazine marketing director Ryan Chapman’s tweet that it would cost double the NEA budget to provide security for the First Lady.

Melania Trump decided not to move into the White House until the end of the year, citing an interest in not disrupting her son Barron’s school year. The reason the comparison with NEA funding has seen so much traction is how perfectly it exemplifies Conservatives’ double-standard logic. One expense that demonstrably serves millions, creates jobs and brings economic prosperity to a city is deemed expendable. Another, which benefits a small, privileged family and costs the city millions in untold lost business (street shut downs, shop inaccessibility, etc) is considered a fixed expense not even worthy of discussion.

The hypocrisy is staggering at a scale that’s hard to conceptualize.

According to the NYPD, every day Melania and Barron remain in Trump Tower costs New York taxpayers an average $136,000. When the President himself comes to visit them, those daily costs balloon to $308,000. By the end of the year, this could add $50-$60 million to the NYPD’s expenses.

And while Trump has proposed slashing federal funding for the arts (along with pretty much every other non-military program), the Secret Service is requesting an extra $60 million in its 2018 budget. Almost half of that—$26.8 million—is earmarked for security at Trump Tower while the president’s family remains in their private residence. That figure is just $2.7 million shy of the amount of money gutting New York’s NEA-funded programs is supposedly saving the government.

Based on the NYPD’s separate $136,000/day figure, we’ve calculated that it costs the city $5,666.67 for every hour Melania Trump spends in Manhattan instead of the White House. That led us to the question: what is the value of the city’s NEA-funded art programs in Melania Trump hours?


Smack Mellon Studios, for example, received $40,000 from the NEA last year. That money goes to support a studio program and career development for women artists, whose studio residencies can last up to 10 months. Or, $40,000 could fund a little over 7 hours of Melania’s Manhattan security.

Other New York arts initiatives whose NEA funds last year roughly matched 7 Melania hours include Art in General’s commissioning program, the High Line’s current Mutations public art installation and accompanying community outreach, City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage series, BAM’s Next Wave festival, and The Laundromat Project. The latter funds accessible art and education outreach programs in laundromats throughout the city. For relatively small programs like this and Smack Mellon, NEA support accounts for not only a respectable percentage of their budget, but can act as a signifier of legitimacy when seeking vital funding from other sources.

Below, we’ve listed 49 New York art organizations that received NEA funding last fall. This isn’t all of them—we omitted organizations that fell outside of the focus of the blog—but it gives a good sense of the impact the NEA has and what would be lost without them.  

These examples range from $15,000 for projects such as art classes at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan (equivalent to 2.6 Melania Hours) all the way up to $100,000 for the New York City Ballet (a whopping 17.6 hours of Melania penthouse time).

$15,000 ~ 2.6 Melania Hours

  • Byrd Hoffman Watermill Foundation (aka The Watermill Center) $15,000 New York, NY To support artist residencies and related activities.
  • Center for Performance Research, Inc. (aka CPR – Center for Performance Research) $15,000 Brooklyn, NY To support rehearsal and choreographic development. CPR programs will serve experimental dance and performance communities in New York City by providing subsidized rates for space usage, access to a customizable performance space, and support from technical staff.
  • Henry Street Settlement (aka Abrons Arts Center) $15,000 New York, NY To support the presentation of multidisciplinary performances. The Abrons Arts Center will present work by artists in disciplines including theater,and dance.
  • Harvestworks, Inc. $15,000 New York, NY To support artist residencies. Artists from various disciplines will receive commissioning fees and training to create new works in emerging technologies, such as biosensors, immersive audio and video, camera and eye tracking systems, data sonification and visualization, apps for smartphones and tablets, and new computer interfaces and controllers.
  • Tribeca Film Institute (aka TFI) $15,000 New York, NY To support the TFI Interactive program. Artists, technologists, musicians, journalists, filmmakers, game designers, and community leaders will assemble during the program to explore new modes of digital storytelling.
  • Children’s Museum of Manhattan (aka CMOM) $15,000 New York, NY To support Collage Collaborations, a series of arts workshops for children and their adult caregivers.
  • Issue Project Room, Inc. (aka ISSUE Project Room) $15,000 Brooklyn, NY To support residencies for emerging artists.
  • Cinema Tropical Inc. (aka Cinema Tropical) $15,000 New York, NY To support “The Cinema Tropical Film Series.” The series highlights Latin-American cinema in venues throughout New York City.

$20,000 ~ 3.5 Melania Hours

  • Anthology Film Archives (aka Anthology, AFA) $20,000 New York, NY To support the presentation of several curated film and video series.
  • Open Source Gallery, Inc. (aka Open Source Gallery) $20,000 Brooklyn, NY To support a series of exhibitions by artists and artist collectives with an emphasis on international exchange.
  • Recess Activities, Inc. (aka Recess) $20,000 New York, NY To support an artist residency program.
  • Residency Unlimited Inc. (aka RU) $20,000 Brooklyn, NY To support an artist residency program.
  • Arts for Art, Inc. (aka AFA) $20,000 New York, NY To support the Vision Festival, a jazz and multidisciplinary arts festival, and related activities.
  • International Studio & Curatorial Program (aka ISCP) $20,000 Brooklyn, NY To support an artist residency program and related exhibitions and publications.
  • Art Council Inc. (aka Artadia) $20,000 Brooklyn, NY To support Artadia’s Art & Dialogue, a professional development series for artists and curators.
  • Bronx Council on the Arts, Inc. (On behalf of Longwood Art Gallery) $20,000 Bronx, NY To support a series of exhibitions at the Longwood Art Gallery.
  • Eyebeam Atelier, Inc. (aka Eyebeam) $20,000 Brooklyn, NY To support artists residencies and creative technologists and related activities.
  • UnionDocs, Inc. (aka UnionDocs) $20,000 Brooklyn, NY To support the Documentary Bodega Series.
  • Movement Research, Inc. $20,000 New York, NY To support the presentation of a free and low-cost public performance series.

$25,000 ~ 4.4 Melania Hours

  • Artists Alliance, Inc. (aka AAI) $25,000 New York, NY To support an exhibition program. Project activity will take place at the Cuchifritos Gallery in the Essex Street Market on New York’s Lower East Side.
  • Alliance for Young Artists & Writers, Inc. (aka Scholastic Art & Writing Awards) $25,000 New York, NY To support Scholastic Art & Writing Award’s exhibition “ART.WRITE.NOW,” and related programming.
  • A Blade of Grass Fund (aka A Blade of Grass) $25,000 New York, NY To support a residency for socially engaged artists and related activities.
  • Dieu Donne Papermill, Inc. (aka Dieu Donne) $25,000 New York, NY To support residency and exhibition opportunities for artists in the hand papermaking tradition.
  • Franklin Furnace Archive, Inc. (aka Franklin Furnace) $25,000 Brooklyn, NY To support a series of arts education workshops.
  • Triangle Arts Association Limited (aka Triangle Arts Association) $25,000 Brooklyn, NY To support residencies for visual artists and related activities.
  • Games for Change (aka G4C) $25,000 New York, NY To support the 14th Games for Change Festival.
  • American Federation of Arts, Inc. (aka AFA) $25,000 New York, NY To support development of a traveling exhibition and catalogue, “Transatlantic Encounters: Latin American Artists in Paris between the Wars, 1918-39,” and related programming.
  • Dia Center for the Arts (aka Dia Art Foundation) $25,000 New York, NY To support the exhibition and catalogue for, “Charlotte Posenenske: 1954-1968.”
  • Leslie/Lohman Gay Art Foundation, Inc. (aka Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art) $25,000 New York, NY Art Works – Museum To support the creation and production of a permanent collection catalogue.
  • Socrates Sculpture Park, Inc. (aka Socrates Sculpture Park) $28,000 Long Island City, NY To support the Emerging Artist Fellowship Program.

$30,000 ~ 5.3 Melania Hours

  • Bronx Documentary Center Inc (aka Bronx Documentary Center) $30,000 Bronx, NY To support documentary photography exhibitions and related programming.
  • Electronic Arts Intermix, Inc. (aka EAI) $30,000 New York, NY To support the Artists Media Distribution Service and related activities.
  • International Foundation for Art Research, Inc. (aka IFAR) $30,000 New York, NY To support the publication of the “IFAR Journal” and the development of a digital version.

$35,000 ~ 6 Melania Hours

  • Jewish Museum $35,000 New York, NY To support the retrospective exhibition of American painter, designer and poet, Florine Stettheimer.
  • New Art Publications, Inc. (aka BOMB Magazine) $35,000 Brooklyn, NY To support the publication of  BOMB Magazine.
  • Bronx Museum of the Arts (aka Bronx Museum) $35,000 Bronx, NY Some details of the projects listed are subject to change, contingent upon prior Arts Endowment approval.

40,000 ~ 7 Melania Hours

  • Brooklyn Academy of Music $40,000 To support the Next Wave Festival and related activities.
  • Smack Mellon Studios, Inc. (aka Smack Mellon) $40,000 Brooklyn, NY To support the Artist Studio Program.
  • City Parks Foundation (aka CPF) $40,000 New York, NY To support SummerStage, a series of multidisciplinary performances and related activities.
  • Art in General, Inc. (aka Art in General) $40,000 Brooklyn, NY To support the New Commissions Program.
  • Stephen Petronio Dance Company, Inc. (aka Stephen Petronio Company) $40,000 New York, NY To support restaging two additional pieces for Bloodlines and the creation of a new work by Stephen Petronio.
  • Friends of the High Line $40,000 New York, NY To support “Mutations,” a series of public art installations for the High Line Park in New York City.
  • Laundromat Project, Inc. (aka The Laundromat Project) $40,000 New York, NY To support artists’ residencies and arts education programming at neighborhood laundromats.

$50,000 ~ 9 Melania Hours

  • International Center of Photography (aka ICP) $50,000 New York, NY To support the exhibition “Magnum Manifesto: The 70th Anniversary of Magnum Photos.”
  • Metropolitan Museum of Art $50,000 New York, NY To support “The Age of Empires: Chinese Art of the Qin and Han Dynasties (221 BC-AD 220).”
  • BRIC Arts | Media | Bklyn, Inc. (aka BRIC) (On behalf of Celebrate Brooklyn Performing Arts Festival) $50,000 Brooklyn, NY To support a performing artists series at the Celebrate Brooklyn Performing Arts Festival and related activities.

$100,000 ~ 17.6 Melania Hours

  • Joyce Theater Foundation, Inc. (aka The Joyce Theater; The Joyce) $100,000 New York, NY To support the Dance Presentation Program.
  • New York City Ballet, Inc. (aka New York City Ballet, NYCB) $100,000 New York, NY To support the presentation of ballets during the Festival of Contemporary Choreographers.
  • Women Make Movies, Inc. (aka WMM) $100,000 New York, NY To support the Women Make Movies Distribution Service.

We have two words for the Trumps: Fuck You.

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