I sent the following letter to my three federal representatives, my member of the House and my two senators. I used a form letter provided by the American Alliance of Museums, of which I am a member, as a starting point. I am not in the habit of writing letters to my representatives. Nor am I in the habit of marching in the streets and in the airport, but I have done all of these things since January 21, 2017, because what is happening in America is not normal. And the current administration’s stated plans to ax the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities strikes me as just as petty, short-sighted, and mean-spirited as anything else to come out of it so far. If you find some value in the NEA and NEH, or in this letter, please contact your own representatives to let them know.
Thank you for all you have done and continue to do to fight against the new administration and its unconstitutional ways. Also, thank you for your support of the arts in general, and of the Capital Region in particular.
On Friday night at an art gallery opening at Collar Works Gallery in Troy, NY, I met a young college graduate who is pursuing her dream as an artist. She remembered meeting me when I was the arts editor at the Times Union, the main newspaper in the Capital Region, and she was a high school student whose art work I chose to feature in the newspaper. That was a moment in her life that gave her the courage to pursue her dream.
Even though I am no longer with the newspaper and now work at the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College, that moment was due in part to lessons I learned as a National Endowment for the Arts fellow in the Arts Journalism program. What I learned as an NEA fellow and the connections I made with fellow arts journalists from across the US have been invaluable not only to me personally and professionally (the lessons I learned there I still use today in my role at the museum), but are also a benefit to those with whom I communicate with about the arts, both art makers and art audiences, finding ways to put into words the transformative and life-changing experiences that art can bring.
The federal government is in a unique position to make such programs as the NEA’s no-longer existent arts journalism program possible; however, the NEA and the NEH continue to be beacons of knowledge and support. That is why I am writing to you today to urge you to support FY 2017 funding of at least $155 million each for the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). These programs are critical to cultural organizations’ abilities to serve their communities as economic and educational assets.
NEH supports museums as institutions of learning and exploration, and as keepers of our cultural, historical, and scientific heritages. These programs teach essential skills-such as creativity, critical thinking, and effective communication-that are increasingly being sought by employers. NEH also funds humanities councils in every state and U.S. territory, which sponsor family literacy programs, speakers’ bureaus, cultural heritage tourism, exhibitions, and live performances.
The nonprofit arts industry generates $135.2 billion annually in economic activity, supports 4.1 million full-time equivalent jobs in the arts and related industries, and returns $9.6 billion in federal income taxes. In partnership with the NEA, state arts agencies annually award 23,000 grants to organizations, schools, and artists in 5,000 communities across the United States. On average, each NEA grant leverages at least nine dollars from other state, local, and private sources. Private support cannot match the leveraging role of government cultural funding.
As you may know, at the Tang Teaching Museum at Skidmore College nearly everything we present we offer free to the public. Our audience members often tell us that what they are able to experience there gives them new insights into not only how museums work and the place of museums in our society, but also into the complexities of what it means to be a human being today. Though much of the Tang’s funding comes from private donors, cuts to the NEA and NEH, or even the elimination of both programs, serve to delegitimize the value of artistic and cultural production that is outside the mainstream market.
When we look back at the highpoints of human history, chief among them are artistic and cultural achievements that give space to expand our understandings of what it means to be human. The low points in human history are often just the opposite, when people decide to limit the definition of human being to justify brutality, war, enslavement, and mass murder.
It is for these reasons that I once again urge you to support funding for NEA and NEH in order to bolster the vital cultural work in our community provided by museums and other institutions. If I can provide any further information about the benefit of this funding please let me know.