Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Maryland's College of Arts and Humanities Advocates for the National Endowments' Funding

Story Highlights:
  • Arts organizations across the U.S. steel themselves as the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), 2 of 17 targeted federal agencies, are flagged for elimination under the Trump administration.
  • The College of Arts and Humanities at the University of Maryland (ARHU) is at the forefront among Maryland organizations advocating for the benefits the agencies deliver, most of all, to smaller communities.
  • Baltimore Stories is one example of several programmatic successes ARHU develops through NEH funding, and it has laid the groundwork for initiatives offering benefits for communities nationwide.

The “blueprint” that calls for the elimination of the NEA and the NEH has recently been unrolled yet again by posturing politicians in the Trump administration.

Within the last 5 years, the leadership of both the NEA and the NEH have pivoted by working diligently to demonstrate the agencies’ impact in the public square. That overall effort has granted them distance from their perception as instruments of the left in politicians’ culture wars, and a better chance of being taken off the table as conservative politicians’ bargaining chips. Now, they are recognized for their usefulness in enhancing education but still are not valued as highly as STEM programs.

Wealthy Americans have always seen the value of artistic and cultural experiences as enhancements to learning. In fact, two-thirds of the NEA’s work is in small, underserved towns, and their funding is allocated to small, underserved organizations, across the U.S. Areas in states without the economic infrastructure, or the museums and cultural centers found in larger cities, are more likely to be adversely affected by the agencies’ defunding.

In Maryland, where there is overwhelming support from most representatives, Governor Larry Hogan has increased funding to arts organizations within the state to the tune of $20 million last year, and allocated an additional one million dollars to the budget for next year, countering the national trend.

ARHU and the university at-large have been advocating for continued commitment to funding the NEA and the NEH through numerous efforts.

Bonnie Thornton Dill, ARHU dean, implored members of Congress to continue efforts to ensure funding of at least $149.8 million each for the NEA and the NEH for fiscal year 2018, and says, “These federal investments in the humanities and arts have not only benefited students and faculty at the UMD but also across our state. For example, our NEH-funded “Freedman and Southern Society” project has gained international prominence and is a resource for history and social studies teachers in K-12 programs across the country.”

Her office prepared materials for the legislators that logged details of the humanities at work in Maryland, detailing the $28 million of NEA and $29 million of NEH funding allocated to programs and organizations throughout the state. Additionally, the University of Maryland participated in Advocacy Day on the Hill, discussing the state of public humanities efforts and lobbying the Maryland delegation of the Congress to bolster their overwhelming support of the arts and humanities in the state.

To help faculty talk to the media about the impact the agencies’ funding has made to campus initiatives and the community, the ARHU communications office crafted talking points that highlighted grant-funded projects like Baltimore Stories and other grant-dependent projects.

The “Baltimore Stories: Narrative and the Life of an American City” project grew out of a collaboration between the office of Dr. Sheri Parks, ARHU’s Associate Dean for Research, Interdisciplinary Scholarship and Programming, faculty and residents of Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray and subsequent uprising in the city.

The project staged 20 public events working with underserved African Americans, including the first ever story exchange between working police and teenagers, and community members of disparate income brackets. Parks says, “Baltimore Stories is designated by the NEH as a national model for deep community conversations that move the members beyond superficial discussions that do little to facilitate change, and its template has been used in cities like Charlotte, Boston and twice in New York, demonstrating the spreading impact of the humanities.”

Its online curriculum is being considered by the National Education Association to be added to the common core, in order to help instructors teach about race and power and social class.

A newly-acquired NEH grant for “Home Stories” expands these community conversations to migrant youth in Prince George’s County, but is dependent on NEH matching grants that may never materialize if the new administration’s cuts are approved by the Congress.

Similarly, funding from the NEA has supported a wide range of UMD projects from research involving the impact of arts participation on overall student achievement to art preservation projects that assisted in the care and management of the university’s unique art and archive in the David C. Driskell Center for the Study of Visual Arts and Culture of African Americans and the African Diaspora.

Although threats to their existence wage on, both endowments prove to provide significant returns on their investments. Arts and culture as an industry contribute 4.2 percent of the U.S. GDP, above industries like construction, transportation, mining and agriculture. Every government-allocated dollar distributed through the NEA and NEH, leverages $9 and $8 of private, matching funds, respectively and the government’s $149.8 million dollar appropriation to the NEA results in $9.7 billion in tax revenue. 

(Photo, audio, videos and graphics by Jaye Nelson) (Dr. Bonnie Thornton Dill, personal communication, April 6, 2017) (Dr. Sheri Parks, personal communication, April 12, 2017) Tepper, Taylor "President Trump Wants to Kill these 17 Federal Agencies and Programs. Here's What they Actually Cost and Do." Time Inc., 24 Jan. 2017. Kaltenbach, Chris "Maryland arts organizations denounce potential loss of government funding." The Baltimore Sun, 17 Mar. 2017. Hall, Tom and Armstrong, Bridget "Culture Connections with Dr. Sheri Parks: The Cost of Cutting the Arts." WYPR, 7 Mar. 2017. “Baltimore Stories: Narrative and the Life of an American City” University of Maryland College of Arts & Humanities. Bureau of Economic Analysis “Real Value Added by Industry.” “Value Added by Industry as a Percentage of Gross Domestic Product.” U.S. Department of Commerce.