Why we need our national endowments

By Guest Columnist STANLEY ROMANSTEIN, professor of practice, Creative Media Industries Institute at Georgia State University, and principal with BLJackson Associates

In 1965 the U.S Congress – both Republicans and Democrats – expressed the firm belief that, “Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located, masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.”

Stanley Romanstein, edit

Stanley Romanstein

Congress went on to say that, “It is necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to complement, assist, and add to programs for the advancement of the arts and humanities by local, State, regional, and private agencies and their organizations.” Congress created – and funded – two national endowments: A National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and a National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH).

Both endowments are slated for elimination in President Trump’s proposed budget for the 2018 fiscal year, which has not been finalized. While there is support for NEA and NEH within Congress, President Trump’s recommendation is troubling.

Why, in just over a generation – from the creation of the national endowments in 1965 to President Trump’s 2017 call for their dissolution – have we as a nation disavowed our belief that the arts and humanities benefit us all, that they are central to democracy, and that government can and should actively support the arts and humanities? Do we understand what we will lose – as Americans and as Georgians – if Congress accepts President Trump’s recommendation?

In 2016 the NEA and NEH budgets combined totaled $296 million – 0.006% of that year’s $3.9 trillion federal budget. NEA and NEH provide meaningful support for arts and humanities programs and organizations in each of the 50 states and 6 U.S. territories – and for less than $1 per American citizen.

In partnership with the Georgia Council for the Arts, in 2016 (the most recent year for which complete numbers are available) NEA’s investment In Georgia made it possible for:

kenny leon, exit strategy

Ike Holter’s ‘Exit Strategy,’ a play about failing schools, was staged at Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company with support from the National Endowment for the Arts. Credit: atlantabuzz.com

  • The Madison-Morgan Cultural Center to support music in rural communities in and around Madison;
  • Kenny Leon’s True Colors Theatre Company to premiere Ike Holter’s Exit Strategy, a play that focuses on the epidemic of failing public schools;
  • Savannah Music Festival to bring artists from our state together with musicians from Haiti, Mongolia and Pakistan for innovative performances in Savannah;
  • Alliance Theatre to encourage the work of emerging playwrights, including Jireh Breon Holder, author of Too Heavy for Your Pocket, a reflection of Civil Rights Movement narratives;
  • Atlanta Ballet to engage an increasingly diverse group of dancers, and to work with area high school students.

In that same year NEH, in partnership with the Georgia Humanities Council:

  • Underwrote an Augusta University project on “Race and Understanding;”
  • Sponsored National History Day in Georgia, through which thousands of children in rural and urban locales studied and commemorated American history and culture;
  • Worked with museums and historical societies in rural Georgia to capture and preserve the stories of our ancestors;
  • Supported Young Harris College’s “Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival;”
  • Continued to develop the New Georgia Encyclopedia, the nation’s first online state encyclopedia, a public resource used by every 8th-grade classroom in our state (and by audiences around the world).
Lloyd Arneach, story teller

Cherokee teller and author Lloyd Arneach is among those who have appeared at Young Harris College’s ‘Georgia Mountain Storytelling Festival.’ In 2016, the festival was supported by the National Endowment for the Humanities. Credit: arneach.com

Taken together, NEA and NEH dollars made it possible for us as Georgians to explore creative approaches to difficult issues, to celebrate our history, to understand our present and chart our future, and encouraged us to focus on what we value as individuals and communities. Pretty impressive work for national endowments that have only $1 per American at their disposal.

Eliminating NEA and NEH would have very little impact on the federal budget. At a time in which we are deeply divided as a country, seemingly unable or unwilling to understand those who stand on the opposite side of a growing political divide, the arts and humanities have a unique ability to promote mutual understanding and help us to find common ground upon which to stand.

As Congress wrote when establishing NEA and NEH in 1965, “The arts and humanities reflect the high place accorded by the American people to our Nation’s rich cultural heritage and to the fostering of mutual respect for the diverse beliefs and values of all persons and groups.”

If Congress eliminates NEA and NEH, we all lose. Make your voice heard: Speak out in support of NEA and NEH and of the important work they do across our state and our nation.

 

4 replies
  1. Steve Hagen says:

    For those who believe we as a people should not collectively support a variety of cultural activities, then you may flawed in your thinking that we would get visual and performing arts which really represent the communities in which we live by relying just on individual or corporate support. We might be short changed on other perspectives.

    While large corporations and individuals support various arts organizations, I prefer to not pay higher prices for products and services so certain corporations can then pick and choose what we are to experience. I prefer
    a broader based system of funding to assure that all or least many frames of reverence are supported.

    From a pure financial standpoint, it can be proven that funds pumped in to local arts organizations, employing locals are heavily recycled in a local economy versus traveling shows based on producing a profit. When we support local arts organizations we support the local economy. Indeed, I would like to see arts organizations growing so more people can be employed in the arts at liveable wages.Report

    Reply
  2. Tom McHaney says:

    The National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities help preserve all the kinds of American creativity that the founding fathers enjoyed, practiced, and freed from autocratic censorship. That Georgia puts this celebration and popularization of positive human expression under the aegis of state Development signifies that both the arts and the humanistic professions are key players in economic development through, the attraction of new businesses and industries and human talent to our state.Report

    Reply
    • Chris Johnston says:

      @ Tom McHaney
      And only the right sort of people determine the direction of these endowments, while all of the people are expected to pay for it? Noblesse oblige with the rabble paying!Report

      Reply

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