This Opinion piece was published on March 8, 2017 in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
by Anne Pryor
It would be a short-sighted mistake by Congress to eliminate or defund the National Endowment for the Arts or the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Communities across Wisconsin are better informed, more cohesive and creatively positioned to market their assets thanks to investments made through grants from the endowments. Both founded in 1965 by Congress, the two endowments support local endeavors generated by community members who want to connect with others on vital issues. They do this by creating exhibits, conducting research, performing, conversing or preserving heritage, and the endowments provide seed money to make this happen.
In Wisconsin, nonprofit organizations can receive support from either endowment directly, or through their state partners: the Wisconsin Arts Board and the Wisconsin Humanities Council. Projects conducted across Wisconsin focus on what makes our life here special and unique, which then lets us know ourselves better and tell our stories to others: Delavan’s circus heritage; lake sturgeon in Fond du Lac; Neenah’s Civil War veterans’ histories; what it means to live on a river in Manitowoc, Wausau or Prairie du Chien; Rosholt’s historic buildings; and cultural resources important to Native peoples of Lake Superior are just some of many examples.
The federal dollars allocated to the Endowments are a miniscule portion of the federal budget; each received 0.003% of federal spending, or $148 million, in 2016. Yet that small investment by Congress reaps tremendous rewards. The small grants of $2,000 to $10,000 awarded to local Wisconsin organizations allow them to invest in the quality of life of their community. These awards generate local arts and culture spending as each requires a 1:1 match for every dollar awarded. That money hires people and sustains jobs, and enhances locales for more tourist visits, boosting the local tourism industry. The endowments use their modest funds as leverage to stimulate local communities through economic, social and creative means.
We benefit when these national agencies provide local entities with support and their endorsement. Learning more about our ancestors’ trials and legacies, we benefit from the past; we benefit in the present as we create understandings of how to move forward through current challenges and environments, and our future benefits as our children learn, grow and reflect the world we are leaving them.
I urge my fellow Wisconsinites to contact their member of Congress to express support for the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities. Contact the Wisconsin Humanities Council to find out what has been funded in your community so that you can thank your congressperson for past support and encourage ongoing efforts to protect our cultural legacy agencies.
Anne Pryor is a folklorist living in Madison who has worked across Wisconsin in multiple communities.
Please call or write to your member of Congress and to Senators Ron Johnson and Tammy Baldwin today to ask for their support for full funding of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Federal/State Partnership, which funds the Wisconsin Humanities Council. And the Federation of State Humanities Councils offers a direct way to take action on their website!
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