Blue Star Museum program kicks off amid NEA funding concerns

"Blue Star" program offers veterans free admission to thousands of museums

Starting Monday and running all throughout the summer, veterans will have free admission to thousands of museums throughout the country, including many in our area. It's called the Blue Star Museum program, and it's organized by the National Endowment for the Arts. But that organization is one of several that have been put on the potential chopping block in the President's fiscal year 2018 budget that was released last week.

It's one of President Trump's many proposed cuts for the upcoming budget cycle. In fact, the Federal Budget Office claims that the $3.6 trillion in cuts over the next decade are the most ever proposed by a President. But the Blue Star Museum program is a perfect example of how a line item on a budget affects people in small communities, and as it kicks off this week, it's on people's minds.

For the past eight years, from Memorial Day through Labor Day, museums and historical sites like the National D-Day Memorial in Bedford have been free to all veterans. In fact, 10 different museums across Southwest Virginia participate all summer long.

"We have a lot of veterans come in. We had a couple come in today that wanted to view certain parts, and yesterday, I worked yesterday afternoon, we probably had I think maybe five in," said Ed Tinsley, a volunteer at the Lynchburg Museum, which also participates in the Blue Star program.

This year, the museum has a World War One exhibit in honor of the Memorial Day holiday. Tinsely described how soldiers came through the city during the war.

"We would have women from the local area down there handing them lunch bags and things up to the troops on the train, and after a while, it got to be known as Lunchburg," said Tinsley.

Tinsley says the Blue Star program attracts visitors, to learn facts like that about his city.

But National Endowment for the Arts Chair Jane Chu says the program can also just offer time to be together, saying "It means a lot to offer these families access to high-quality, budget-friendly opportunities to spend time together."

With a budget of just under $150 million, the Endowment funds many programs like Blue Star. Cutting it and many other agencies drew outrage from some last week. Chu says, the agency isn't making any changes based on an unofficial budget proposal, saying "At this time, the NEA continues to operate as usual and will do so until a new budget is enacted by congress."

Tinsley says, for his museum and its veteran patrons, he hopes that enacted budget isn't quite so austere.

"If you can get the word out to the people that you have this and the reason for it. Yes, it's worth every bit of the money you've got in it," said Tinsley.

It's important to note that when Chu said the NEA would continue to operate as usual, that means they are still accepting grant proposals for fiscal year 2018. So nothing is official yet, but this is now the second time funding cuts for the endowment have been a focus of this administration.