The threat to eliminate funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) became even more real with the release of President Trump’s budget, which outlines this proposed cut as well as cuts to many more agencies and federal programs: America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again
In the same manner that our study of the humanities encourages fact-finding, reflection, and informed decision-making, I urge you to read the budget proposal yourselves and form your own conclusions. The mention of the NEH is on page 5.
The elimination of the NEH would certainly negatively impact our nonprofit organization, Oklahoma Humanities (OH). From our point of view as the state’s affiliate of the NEH since 1971, the benefit and positive impact of these federal funds in our state should be adequate argument not only for the retention but the enthusiastic support of NEH. Understanding our history as Americans through the rich content available to us through the disciplines of history, literature, philosophy, ethics, and jurisprudence helps us to not only know who we are as individuals, but as community members and global citizens.
Federal funds from NEH have enriched Oklahoma by making possible a variety of public programs such as museum exhibits, book discussions, lectures, panel discussions, film festivals, local history festivals, K-12 enrichment programs, and teacher training. Learning who we are as Americans can be personally rewarding and can satisfy that innate curiosity we all share about our place in the world. This alone should justify the $148 million appropriated to the NEH in 2016.
Perhaps it is not enough, however. Possibly the argument that these federal funds leverage local dollars at a rate of $5 for every federal dollar OH expends would be more compelling. Local communities, especially rural communities, need these funds to conduct cultural projects for their citizens. We see libraries, museums, Main Street organizations, chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, and local school districts come together in an effort to tell their own stories. This brings visitors to their towns at the same time they serve their own residents. Without federal funds most of these projects would not be at all possible and the economic impact of these programs would be nonexistent.
Finally, skeptics could be further directed to the idea that without the lifelong learning opportunities in the humanities that OH and NEH provide, we stand to lose our nation’s rich cultural heritage. The preservation of our achievements, ideas, innovations, dreams, and hopes for our country, those shared American values that ensure a free society, is absolutely appropriate for the federal government to enable and defend. Without the sharing of this wealth of knowledge our nation is poorer. This small investment is critical to the strength of our nation and is something worth defending.