I trust we all agree that the arts and humanities presented nobly at America’s museums make the world a better place to live and learn. Museums play a critical role in helping us rediscover and rewire our societal DNA between the two hemispheres of thought and action.
In the coming weeks, President Trump plans to release a formal budget plan for fiscal year 2018, which begins Oct. 1, and Congress will begin the work of writing bills to fund federal government agencies and programs. Early reports indicate the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts could face potential elimination because funding for museums is “not a core federal responsibility,” as witnessed by a recent budget resolution passed by the U.S. House. The NEH and NEA were last reauthorized more than two decades ago, increasing their vulnerability in Congress. The Institute of Museum and Library Services is now due for reauthorization for another six years.
I concur with Laura Lott, president and CEO of the American Alliance of Museums, who recently wrote that “these agencies play a uniquely valuable role in helping make the arts and humanities accessible to every American.”
Conner Prairie has been the recipient of federal grants that have significantly expanded its educational programing and services and now serve as national benchmarks for other museums. Since 2010, the museum has been awarded nearly $900,000 in federal grants for the development and implementation of exhibits and programming.
All citizens and every member of Congress need to understand how federal grants come back to local communities: 40 percent of both the NEA and NEH budgets are sent directly to state arts commissions and humanities councils. In the past three years alone, Conner Prairie has received nearly $15,000 from the Indiana Arts Commission, funds re-granted from the NEA, to help support art programs. Conner Prairie and other museums can all point to how government grants are critical in leveraging additional private contributions from local communities.
We all need to advocate for museums as significant economic engines, stewards and trustees of important collections, community connectors and education providers. But museums do so much more. Museums serve teachers, home-schoolers and people living with disabilities. We help wounded warriors, play a key role in supporting literacy, and reach underserved populations in meaningful ways. Museums help create vital communities in which to live and work. They spur travel and tourism that feed the economy. As such, museums are a wise investment in a community’s infrastructure.
So how can you help? You can start by expressing your support for the NEA, NEH and IMLS in your circle of influence. Inform your family, friends and colleagues and make sure members of Congress know how important these funds are to museums throughout the country.
You can also get social. The Congressional Management Foundation found that 80 percent of congressional staffs pay close attention to constituents on social media. Find your elected officials on social media and start following them to learn about their priorities so you are prepared to make your case for continued federal funding.
Today more than ever before, museums are uniquely positioned to help bring diverse communities together by serving as safe spaces to have difficult conversations and shared experiences. It is this type of open and constructive dialogue and interaction that fosters engaged citizens and helps build bridges across cultures and generations.•
Burns is president and CEO of Conner Prairie.