As reported in The Washington Post, President Trump’s proposed budget plan “calls for the elimination of four independent cultural agencies,” including the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, and “would radically reshape the nation’s cultural infrastructure.”
Since their founding 50 years ago, the NEH and the NEA have supported high-quality, grassroots programming in communities across the country, reaching nearly every American with opportunities to understand, to celebrate, to discover new perspectives, to contemplate, reflect, and engage. As Thomas P. Campbell wrote in a New York Times op-ed, the elimination of such agencies “would in essence eliminate investment by the American government in the curiosity and intelligence of its citizens.”
Here at VFH, we’ve been watching these developments closely, and we want you to know the facts. While we are concerned about the Administration’s proposal, we remain optimistic that these vital agencies can be preserved through the hard work of advocates across the country.
We want you to join our advocacy efforts at this critical time.
What precisely is at risk, in dollar terms?
The combined budgets of the NEH and NEA represent a mere 0.008% of the projected $4 trillion budget. In FY 2016, the NEH alone received $149.89 million, of which $43 million was directed to state humanities councils like VFH. For FY 2017, the House and Senate recommended that the councils receive $46 million and $43.5 million, respectively. Funding at these modest levels has enabled the NEH and the councils to carry out programs that would be in jeopardy if the NEH were eliminated.
How does this funding affect the lives of Virginians?
Funding from the NEH and NEA allows VFH and other organizations across the country to develop content and experiences that enrich lives and build communities. VFH’s work ranges from radio programs and podcasts to literary and cultural festivals, from grants and fellowships to digital resources for history and heritage.
As the largest of all 56 state humanities councils, VFH makes a big impact, in large part due to long-time support from the NEH. For example, thanks to federal funding:
- Our Encyclopedia Virginia, called an “invaluable resource for Virginia teachers,” supports enhanced learning experiences for thousands of K-12 students across the state.
- Our grants program touches communities in every corner of Virginia, reaches an estimated annual audience of 1.5 million, and matches VFH dollars at an average of 4:1.
- Our radio programs and podcasts educate and entertain millions worldwide, enhancing the current-day relevance of American history and Virginia culture.
- Our Virginia Festival of the Book, the largest community-based book event in the mid-Atlantic region, promotes literacy and stimulates the local and regional economy by drawing annual audiences of more than 20,000.
- Our Virginia Folklife Program highlights and preserves the Commonwealth’s unique and evolving cultural traditions, enlightening audiences of all ages with demonstrations that range from mandolin playing and salt making to gospel singing and Bolivian dance.
- Our community programs, like History United in Danville, use the humanities at the most local level to heal historical racial and cultural divisions, educate citizens about their own history, and stimulate the regional economy.
These programs, and many others in Virginia and nationwide, would be put at risk by the elimination of the NEH and NEA.
The administration’s budget blueprint is fundamentally advisory. The House and Senate will now begin their own budget and appropriations processes, starting with their own budget resolutions. Like the administration’s budget blueprint, these Congressional budget resolutions are also largely non-binding.
The Appropriations committees will ultimately draft legislation that sets funding levels for the NEH, NEA, and other humanities programs that are not specifically addressed in the administration’s blueprint. In the last several years, we have seen strong, bipartisan support on the Appropriations committee for the NEH, in particular, including a $1.9 million increase in FY 2016 and increases proposed by both chambers for FY 2017.
It is critically important that this year’s draft appropriations bills in the House and Senate subcommittees provide adequate funding for humanities programs. Strong draft appropriations levels will put our priorities in a good position to weather this storm. We would then need to be prepared to block amendments that would cut or eliminate funding both in committee and on the floor. If, in contrast, one or both subcommittees do not provide funding for these priorities, we will need to be prepared to restore funding by amendment in subcommittee, committee, or on the floor.
This year’s appropriations process is likely to last a number of months. By April 28, Congress must pass a bill to keep the federal government operating through September 30, the end of the fiscal year. This action will tell us what the funding levels for the cultural agencies will be for the remainder of FY 2017. Other signals of administration and congressional intent could occur at any time through statements issued, budget resolution language (which is advisory, not binding), or other actions.
What Can You Do?
- Call your members of Congress, or attend one of their open meetings, and tell them how important humanities programs are to you and your community. Be specific. Email the member if you are unable to place a call or attend a meeting. Find your representative’s contact information here.
- Remember that your best justifications are the benefits to your community. Tell your story. Use this map to find specific examples of what VFH has done in your legislative district. Invite your representatives and their staff to humanities programs you think they would enjoy. Please let us know what actions you are taking and what you have learned.
- Use the Take Action form on the National Humanities Alliance website to remind President Trump and your members of Congress of your support for the NEH.
- Provide VFH with testimonials, articles and other materials that can be incorporated into advocacy efforts. In addition to our March advocacy visits on the Hill, VFH will continue to communicate directly with Virginia’s members of Congress to urge them to preserve the NEH. If you have a story to share, please email it to Maggie Guggenheimer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What is the Basic Message?
- State humanities councils like VFH are an integral part of communities, helping residents to understand and appreciate history and local culture, promoting reading and literacy, assisting veterans and their families, supporting individual well-being and contributing to local economies through festivals, events and cultural tourism.
- VFH and other state councils are local nonprofits with volunteer boards composed of community, business and policy leaders. Programming decisions are made at the local level and involve partnerships with local institutions such as schools, libraries, businesses, museums, and daycare and senior citizen centers.
- The work of councils like VFH depends on a strong NEH and the core funding allocated to councils through the agency. Big ticket fundraising is simply not available to most councils. Councils leverage $5 dollars for every federal dollar awarded at the local level, but that leveraging capacity would be quickly eroded without federal funds.
Not sure what to say? Here’s an example: “I am calling to ask [congressman’s name] to continue to fund the NEH and NEA. The National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts support grassroots work that is crucial to our citizens’ understanding of the world and their place in it, stimulating creative answers and actions for our communities’ most pressing problems and supporting local economies. Please object to defunding the NEH and NEA. Thank you.”
Now is the time to get involved in our advocacy efforts. We’re counting on you to fight for vital cultural programs in our communities and across the nation. Please use the talking points in this memo to help spread the word. Follow VFH on Facebook and Twitter, and share our alerts via social media.
For 43 years, VFH has worked in innovative ways to create a better future for all Virginians. We hope you will join us in that effort by doing what’s most important now: advocating for the humanities at this critical juncture in our nation’s history.