What does the NEA’s $148-million budget buy? 7,789,473 taco bowls but not even one mile of the 405 Freeway

An artist works at the Bakehouse Art Complex in Miami. Cuts to the NEA could mean the loss of federal funding for art spaces such as this.
An artist works at the Bakehouse Art Complex in Miami. Cuts to the NEA could mean the loss of federal funding for art spaces such as this.
(Joe Raedle / Getty Images)

President Trump has issued his federal budget, and it contains not a penny for the National Endowment for the Arts, the federal arts funding agency that has been the perennial whipping child of the right.

Culture critics, such as The Times’ Christopher Knight, immediately noted that the NEA’s annual budget — which was nearly $148 million in fiscal year 2016 — is minuscule compared to other federal expenditures. Defense, for example, is more than 3,600 times that — almost $583 billion a year. (Perhaps it’s time to ask the Pentagon to economize on toilet paper?)

All of this means that doing away with the NEA isn’t going to save much money, but it will hurt a lot of arts organizations — many of which cater to constituencies that include schoolchildren and military veterans.


Which raises the question: What exactly can one do with $148 million — besides fund thousands of arts programs in communities large and small across the nation? When it comes to big, infrastructure-y photo-op stuff — like expanding a freeway or building a border wall — not all that much. It won’t even get you an entire Picasso at auction.

The money will, however, buy you a whole lot of taco bowls. Hope you’re hungry.

Herewith, the NEA Index — or, what $148 million is worth in 2017:

Copies of President Barack Obama’s proposed fiscal 2015 budget set out for distribution on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., in March 2014.
(J. Scott Applewhite / AP)

0.004% of the total federal budget for 2015 (Quartz)

45 cents per person per year in the U.S., based on current population estimates (Census)

President Trump waves from Air Force One with First Lady Melania Trump and son Barron after arriving at the Palm Beach International Airport on Friday for a weekend at his Mar-a-Lago resort.
(Lynne Sladky / AP)

9.3% of a new Air Force One jet, per estimates issued by the Government Accountability Office (The Hill)

1,019 Tesla Model S P90Ds from 2016 — the kind that lock the driver out (Automobile)

Border Patrol agent Eduardo Olmos walks near the secondary fence separating Tijuana, Mexico, from San Diego in 2016.
(Gregory Bull / AP)

22.8 miles of pedestrian fencing (not a wall!) along the U.S.-Mexico border, at an estimated cost of $6.5 million per mile, per a 2009 government study (Associated Press)

Number of times you’d have to kill the NEA to build that pedestrian fence (not a wall!) along all 2,000 miles of U.S.-Mexico border: 88 (Associated Press)

Commuters along the 405 in the Sepulveda Pass in 2012.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Less than 1 mile of freeway expansion on the 405 at the Sepulveda Pass, which cost roughly $160 million per mile (Los Angeles Times)

Artist Marina Abramovic, left, performs during "Marina Abramovic: The Artist Is Present" exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in 2010.
(Andrew H. Walker / Getty Images)

One sixth of the Museum of Modern Art’s 2013 endowment of $870 million (Quartz)

A view of Trump Tower in New York, where President Donald J. Trump has a home and the main office of his company.
(Justin Lane / EPA)

1,014 to 1,165 days of security expenses for guarding Melania and Barron Trump at Trump Tower, per estimates released by the New York Police Department (New York Times)


— Number of days of security expenses if the President is at Trump Tower with them: 480 (New York Times)

Donald Trump's Palm Beach resort Mar-a-Lago.
(Carolyn Kaster / AP)

41 presidential weekend trips to Mar-a-Lago, at an estimate of $3.6 million per trip (CBS News)

1,873,417 Ivanka Trump imported floral crepe tops at the full retail price of $79 (Wonkette)


98.7% of Trump’s taxable income from 2005, per recently revealed tax returns (Los Angeles Times)

93% of Picasso’s 1954-55 canvas, “Women of Algiers,” which sold at auction for $160 million in 2015 (BBC)

7,400 portraits of Donald Trump — at $20,000 a portrait — painted by “the original speed painter” Michael Israel (Washington Post)


7,789,473 Taco Bowl salads at Trump Grill, tip and tax not included (Trump Grill)

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