The National Endowment for the Arts on Sunday distanced itself from The Public Theater’s rendition of Shakespeare’s “Julius Caesar,” which has drawn backlash for its portrayal of a Donald Trump-like dictator.
“The National Endowment for the Arts makes grants to nonprofit organizations for specific projects. In the past, the New York Shakespeare Festival has received project-based NEA grants to support performances of Shakespeare in the Park by the Public Theater,” the federal arts endowment said in a statement. “However, no NEA funds have been awarded to support this summer’s Shakespeare in the Park production of Julius Caesar and there are no NEA funds supporting the New York State Council on the Arts’ grant to Public Theater or its performances.”
The play, which is performed in New York City’s Central Park as part of Shakespeare in the Park, has sparked controversy and prompted sponsors to pull out over the similarities between the title character in the Public Theater’s rendition of the play and the President.
Victoria Hutter, a spokeswoman for the NEA, told TPM on Monday that the endowment issued its statement after hearing from “someone in the public,” though Hutter said she was “not sure who it was.” Asked if the endowment had received calls with complaints about the play, Hutter said that the NEA did not get calls.
Hutter also said the endowment saw “media reports that were not correct” about its funding relationship to the Public Theater.
While it’s unclear how many news outlets reported that the NEA supports Shakespeare in the Park, a post in the National Review from Friday claims that the endowment funds those performances. Hutter told TPM that the NEA has supported Shakespeare in the Park in the past, but noted grant funds did not go toward that program this year.
Asked if anyone in the administration outside of the NEA had a part in the decision to issue the statement, Hutter told TPM, “No, this was something that the agency did.”
The statement comes as the endowment is in the Trump administration’s crosshairs, as the White House has proposed eliminating the endowment entirely in its budget.