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National arts, humanities funding threatened: U-M experts available

By Sydney Hawkins

University of Michigan Museum of Art, "Orion" sculpture by Mark Di Suvero in the foreground, Photo by Leisa Thompson

Recent reports indicate that the Trump administration is planning to cut funding to the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. U-M experts can discuss.

Sidonie Smith, director of the U-M Institute for the Humanities and the Mary Fair Croushore Professor of the Humanities.

“Over the last three decades, funding for the NEH and NEA has often been put on the chopping block. Total defunding is another thing altogether,” she said. “It evidences a cavalier disregard for the cultural legacies that constitute our humanness and a cowardly suspicion of the qualities of profligate curiosity, ardent receptivity and incisive critique that drive scholars and artists and everyday humanists to reanimate the past, observe the present and project possible futures.

“A vibrant democratic nation rests on a vibrant commitment to preserving and analyzing the diverse cultural legacies encompassed by humanistic learning and creativity. This project is not a business. It cannot be privatized. It cannot be reduced to an instrumental set of skills to get a job. It cannot be left to hacks who promote fake learning. It is trivialized and disregarded to our peril. In these times we need to support the critical work of scholars and artists inside our great institutions of higher education and in our communities. Save the NEH and NEA.”

Contact: 734-255-0439,

Guna Nadarajan, dean of the U-M Penny W. Stamps School of Art & Design.

“For over 50 years, the NEA has been a significant force in the development of and in widening the audience for the arts,” he said. “Elimination or a significant reduction of its already meager funding would have a devastating impact, especially on art organizations in smaller communities where the NEA has been the principal source of funding.”

Contact: via Pat Hodges, 734-763-4093,

Kenneth Fischer, president of U-M’s University Musical Society.

“Spending on the National Endowment for the Arts is a drop in the bucket of overall government spending—0.003 percent of all federal spending in 2016—but it is so critically important to individual artists, to nonprofit arts organizations and to the communities that they serve,” he said. “Forty percent of that allocation is made directly to state and regional arts councils and agencies, allowing decisions about support to be made on a local level. The 4.7 million workers in the arts economy are all taxpayers, and the arts organizations where they work are essentially locally owned businesses that can’t be outsourced. Furthermore, arts organizations contribute to healthy local economies by spending money on materials and hospitality.

“But even more important than the economic benefits are what the arts provide to the soul of a community. The arts provide transcendent moments for people to connect with each other, with their community, to engage in dialogue about how we are similar and how we are different. In short, to heal wounds that may or may not be visible. The arts bring together Republicans and Democrats, people of all races and ethnicities, all celebrating what it means to be human, and American.

“If the goal of the new administration is ‘America First,’ then we should be supporting American artists who will leave a legacy that will last for decades, if not centuries, about what it means to be an American, as expressed through the arts. To ‘make America great again’ we should be increasing, not decreasing, funding for the arts and humanities.”

Contact: 734-647-1174 or 734-323-3864,

Christiane Gruber, associate professor of art history at the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.

“Artists and practitioners in the humanities tend to be at the avant-garde of questioning the status quo—of pushing boundaries and imagining alternative possibilities,” she said. “Funding that supports them allows them opportunities to develop their various projects and lines of thought. Along the way, they tend to cultivate skills in critical analysis, and, at times, their voices can be anti-establishment and quite contrary to what is considered the ‘norm.’

“Trump’s statement that he plans to defund the NEA and NEH must be taken very seriously, as shown by his first move to cut financial support of overseas entities that provide abortion counseling and services. Alongside his fight against personal reproductive choices, he likewise shows a blatant disdain for the arts and humanities. More importantly, it reveals his fear of of intellectual agitation and creative pushback.

“Now more than ever, the talent of American writers, scholars and artists needs to be cultivated through various academic, civic and/or not-for-profit organizations. If not, we risk losing some of the most powerful and provocative cries for resistance against an authoritarian leader who is so evidently attempting to muffle dissent.”

Contact: 267-984 6044,

Carla Sinopoli, professor of anthropology at the U-M College of Literature, Science, and the Arts; curator of Asian archaeology at the Museum of Anthropological Archaeology; and director of the Museum Studies program.

“Although a tiny fraction of the federal budget, government support of the arts and humanities through NEA and NEH has a tremendous positive impact on the institutions that receive their support and on the local communities in which they are based,” she said. “These impacts have been measured monetarily in the demonstrated economic benefits that museums and other cultural institutions bring to their communities. More importantly, they can be measured in the educational and cultural opportunities they provide to citizens: to experience and learn our rich and complex history, to be exposed to diverse cultures and perspectives, to nurture and foster creativity and innovation, and to preserve and protect our shared cultural and historical heritage.

“For more than 50 years, the National Endowment for the Humanities has supported a vast array of activities across the country. These activities—exhibits, lectures, teacher training, support for documentary films, digital archives, heritage conservation and scholarly research and publication, among others—serve Americans in countless communities and every state. Here is how NEH describes its mission: ‘Because democracy demands wisdom, NEH serves and strengthens our republic by promoting excellence in the humanities and conveying the lessons of history to all Americans.’

“As an educator and museum curator, I have seen firsthand the magic that happens when people hold ancient artifacts in their hands or are exposed to new ideas and experiences through exhibits and events. Museums help us build connections to our past, better understand the present and envision new futures.

“In this time of polarization, fractured politics and disputes over basic facts, we need the wisdom, fact-based knowledge, empathy, creativity and commitment to respectful and productive debate that the arts and humanities foster more than ever. Defunding of the NEH and NEA will hurt our economy and weaken our democracy.”

Contact: 734-763-0748,

Mark Clague, associate professor of musicology and director of entrepreneurship and career services at the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

“The arts and humanities are more than entertainment, they are the shared experiences that bind individuals together as a nation,” he said. “At a time of civic division, the arts are more important than ever as a vehicle to share ideas, dreams and visions for the future. Beyond their cultural value, the so-called ‘nonprofit’ arts sector contributes to the U.S. economy and supports a surprising number of jobs. While the NEA budget is $146.2 million annually, it fuels 100,000 nonprofit organizations with a combined economic impact of $135.2 billion, supporting 4.13 million full-time jobs.

“The NEA is simply a smart investment. The NEA also provides vital support to state and local arts agencies that make art accessible beyond our urban centers and that support artists in our communities, not just the celebrities.

“The NEH is particularly vital in supporting research into the history of American culture and preserving our national creativity for future generations. At the University of Michigan, my own work on ‘The Star-Spangled Banner’ as well as our ‘George and Ira Gershwin Critical Edition and Music of the United States of America’ publishing projects are made possible by NEH support. The two publishing projects support two full-time staff positions, which will almost certainly be lost if the NEH is defunded.”

Contact: 734-649-4972,

Anita Gonzalez, professor of theatre and drama, heads the Global Theatre and Ethnic Studies Minor program at the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

“Our democratic institutions depend upon engagement with human thought and expressed beliefs. Eliminating the NEA or the NEH deprives American people of access to diverse perspectives about human conditions and their solutions,” she said. “Without federal funding, many humanitarian institutions will fold, or remain so hobbled they are rendered ineffective. The world, already critical of American anti-intellectualism, is watching. We must demonstrate our commitment to being informed and creative partners in solving national and global problems.

“The United States already lags behind other developed countries around the world in providing state-funded support for the arts. We should be working to catch up to other nations on this issue, rather than making even more cuts to the NEA budget. Public funding for the arts enables more and better artistic production across all geographical regions and class levels in our country, thus promoting a stronger and more diverse cultural voice for us as a nation. We are already losing arts programs in public schools across the U.S., and studies consistently show that this diminishes learning in all subjects. If we couple these losses in school programs with drastic cuts to the NEA budget, we are hobbling both our learning and our public expression. The arts help us to communicate our values, dissent, passions and beliefs to ourselves and others at home and abroad.

“We live in a time of extraordinary political turmoil and dissent, and the arts are a vital and much needed outlet for the people to voice the full range of their beliefs and concerns. Dictatorships always begin with the radical censorship of the arts, and democracies are healthiest when freedom of expression and a wide diversity of artistic expression are virulently protected and promoted.

Contact: 734-647-2298,

Vincent Cardinal, the Arthur and Martha Hearron Endowed Professor and Chair of Musical Theatre at the U-M School of Music, Theatre & Dance.

“The Trump administration’s elimination of the NEA and the NEH is contextualized as part of a bold economic initiative to right the nation’s economy,” he said. “The NEA’s budget for fiscal year 2015 was only $146 million, which represents 0.004 percent of the overall federal budget. It barely registers as a cost. In fact, the creative economy supported by NEA and NEH, in partnership with state and private foundations, is a powerful engine for economic growth and community vitality.

“Beyond the economy, Trump’s action reflects a lack of regard for the impact of the arts and humanities on education, innovation, civil discourse and on the creative spirit that advances humanity. The legacy of great civilizations is not that of their treasury or of their political posturing but of their art and literature, which essays the sum and substance of their time, the diversity of their humanity and the limitless promise of their genius.

“Scenic designer Ming Cho Lee offered, ‘A community without art is like a thought without a soul.’ The eradication of the NEA and the NEH is, in many ways, like annihilating the steward of our nation’s soul.”

Contact:, 734-763-2017

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