What Book Lovers Lose If We Lose The NEA and NEH

By now, it’s become accepted that budgets are moral documents. They make explicit the priorities of a given organization or, in the case of President Trump’s “America First: A Budget Blue-Print to Make America Great Again” (PDF), nation. Among other things, the president has proposed eliminating the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities, the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Other folks are writing nuanced, thoughtful pieces on these proposed cuts as economic, budgetary, and social policy. I am not going to do that; I am sad and real d*mn mad.

In real ways, my personal and professional life has been shaped by public investment in the arts and humanities. As a kid, I loved watching Sesame Street and was the kind of nerdy child that really, really got into visiting NEH-supported Colonial Williamsburg (with my Felicity doll, naturally). I’ve spent most of my adult life in or around libraries and archives supported by the IMLS. As a graduate student, I depended on the amazing programs, resources, and grant funds available through both the NEH and NEA. Seriously, I couldn’t have written my dissertation without Chronicling America.

For decades, the NEA, NEH, IMLS, and CPB have supported the arts and humanities in the United States. When President Johnson created the NEA, he recognized that a nation must meet “not only the needs of the body and the demands of commerce but the desire for beauty and the hunger for community.” This might sound kind of familiar to anyone who has read Station Eleven, an NEA Big Read book. The group of actors adopt “survival is insufficient” as their motto.

You don’t need me to write another post on the power of books and art. You read Book Riot, you get it. Instead, I wanted to share a list of a few of the programs that book-lovers everywhere should know will go away or shrink if these agencies cease to exist.

  • The National Book Festival, sponsored by the NEA and IMLS, is an annual literary event that brings together best-selling authors and thousands of book fans for author talks, panel discussions, book signings and other activities.
  • NEA’s Big Read Program broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book
  • Creative Writing Fellowships that support the production of prose and poetry to writers that enable recipients to set aside time for writing, research, travel, and general career advancement.
  • Open E-Books App contains thousands of popular and award-winning titles that are free for children from low-income households.
  • The Humanities Open Book Program is designed to make outstanding out-of-print humanities books available to a wide audience.
  • Fellowships in Translation support projects for the translation of specific works of prose, poetry, or drama from other languages into English.
  • Chronicling America is a website providing access to information about historic newspapers and digitized newspaper pages from 1789-1924.
  • Tons and tons of prize-winning books
  • Poetry Out Loud encourages students to learn about great poetry through memorization and recitation. This program helps students master public speaking skills, build self-confidence, and learn about literary history and contemporary life.
  • Many regional book festivals receive funding and programmatic support from both the NEH and NEA.
  • The Student Poets Program, supported by the IMLS, links the student poets with audiences and resources in their neighborhoods, and the Alliance’s long-standing work with educators and creative teens through the prestigious Scholastic Art & Writing Awards.
  • Shakespeare in American Communities, a national theater program of the National Endowment for the Arts in cooperation with Arts Midwest, supports high-quality, professional productions of Shakespeare’s plays for middle- and high-school students in underserved schools.
  • Creative Forces: NEA Military Healing Arts Network program places creative arts therapies at the core of patient-centered care at twelve clinical sites and increases access to therapeutic arts activities in local communities for military members, veterans, and their families.
  • Blue Star Museums is a collaboration among the NEA, Blue Star Families, the Department of Defense, and museums across America. Blue Star Museums offer free admission to the nation’s active-duty military personnel and their families, including National Guard and Reserve, from Memorial Day through Labor Day.
  • Museums for All Initiative is a cooperative initiative to offer a signature access program that encourages families of all backgrounds to visit museums regularly and build lifelong museum habits.
  • Humanities initiatives at community colleges grant program funds curricular and faculty development projects that help strengthen humanities programs or incorporate humanistic approaches in fields outside the humanities.

Unfortunately, because the NEA, NEH, IMLS, and CPB are government agencies, they are not able to advocate on their own behalf. However, lots of their grantees, partner organizations, and non-profits like Americans for the Arts are organizing shows of support. Personally, I’m channeling my support through some professional organizations I’m affiliated with.

If you’re interested in speaking up for the NEA, NEH, IMLS, or CPB, I encourage you to reach out to your elected representatives. I also love that people are sharing photos of the books on their shelves that received support from the NEA or NEH. It makes visible the impact of the NEA and NEH and drives home how essential these agencies are for advancing American scholarship. If you’ve enjoyed a program or book that benefited from any of these organizations, I hope you’ll take a moment to share that memory.

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