Perspective: Loss of arts funding would hurt us all
In his draft budget, President Trump suggested eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH). Though they might seem like far-off organizations based in Washington, D.C., they are in fact present in, and a vital part of, the cultural and educational ecosystem in Port Townsend and throughout the state.
Their loss would strike at the heart of what makes Port Townsend a cultural mecca.
The Centrum Foundation has received NEA support for decades to support the preservation and promotion of folk and traditional forms of American music.
One beloved recipient of this support was Milton Vanicor, who came to Centrum in 2013 and 2014 at the age of 94 for the Festival of American Fiddle Tunes. From his cottage in Fort Worden, “Mr. Milton,” a veteran of the U.S. Navy and the Battle of Iwo Jima, trained youth and adults in his craft. His visit, as well as visits from other vocal and blues artists and other national heritage icons to the area, were made possible with NEA support.
“The NEA has been the most effective agency in preserving and protecting our heritage, helping organizations like ours multiply that impact one-hundredfold,” says Robert Birman, Centrum’s executive director.
Candy Snively, a single mother, signed up to take the NEH-supported Clemente Course in the Humanities in Jefferson County because she thought it would be just “something interesting to do.” She entered the course with little ambition, but the Clemente Course, in which students read and discuss the work of the world’s greatest thinkers, transformed her.
“If you had asked me prior to Clemente if I would own a business and become a member of the middle class, I would have laughed,” she said. “I would have been happy to get a good waitressing job that I could use for gas, diapers and cigarettes. But today I am studying for my MBA at Washington State University.”
Similarly poignant examples of the positive impact of cultural programs, from free talks at public libraries to art education in classrooms, can be found throughout Port Townsend, our state and our country thanks to the NEA and the NEH.
Humanities Washington, our state’s NEH affiliate, and ArtsWA, its NEA affiliate, served more than 34,000 people in the Port Townsend area in 2016 with programs created by people in our state, for people in our state.
In addition to Centrum, the Port Townsend Public Library, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend School District, Northwind Arts Center and Jefferson County Library have also benefitted from NEA/NEH support.
Humanities Washington and ArtsWA work extensively outside of major metropolitan areas. The loss of NEH and NEA funding would hit hard in rural areas, which tend to have fewer cultural resources.
Eliminating these federal agencies means programs designed to build community and alleviate the polarization that is tearing at the American social fabric are at serious risk.
Humanities Washington and ArtsWA, along with an expansive network of cultural organizations, create spaces where neighbors can gather to explore their shared heritage and celebrate their culture. The town square is still alive; in many cases, it’s just moved indoors.
These programs also contribute to a town’s economy and livability. On average in Washington state, every $1 that NEA/NEH gives out is leveraged by at least $4 – and in some cases, up to $9 – from private sources in local communities. In a community like Port Townsend that depends on tourism to boost the economy, this is significant.
This administration believes we should rebuild our infrastructure, but infrastructure is more than roads and bridges; it’s the libraries, schools, theaters and museums – and the performances and discussions that take place within them – that create community.
As residents of Washington’s 6th District, we are represented by Congressman Derek Kilmer, a member of the influential House Appropriations Committee and an outspoken advocate for the arts and humanities.
If you believe in the importance of arts and culture, contact his office and thank him for his work to preserve these important cultural programs. Contact Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell as well, and urge them to support continued funding for NEH and NEA. For more information, visit:
(Rick Johnson is a member of the Washington State Arts Commission, a stone sculptor and vice president of the Washington State Labor Council. He lives in Port Townsend.)
(Lela Hilton is the founding academic director of the Jefferson Clemente Course. In 2007, she was honored by Humanities Washington for her contribution to public humanities, and is currently the national program director for the Clemente Course in the Humanities. She lives in Chimacum.)
By: Rick Johnson, Lela Hilton
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