Floated NEH, NEA cuts would be felt here

Gayle Jessup White (left) and Lucia Stanton speak during "Memory, Mourning, Mobilization: Legacies of Slavery and Freedom in America," the capstone event of Human/Ties, a 50th anniversary celebration of the National Endowment for the Humanities, at Monticello in September.

Reports that President Donald Trump is planning to eliminate federal endowments for the arts and humanities have some in Charlottesville concerned that a source of funding for research and teaching could disappear.

The Hill, a political trade publication, reported Thursday that two members of the president's transition team are laying out a plan to reduce federal spending by $10.5 trillion over the next decade.

Among the most dramatic changes proposed, according to The Hill, is the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The proposal hits close to home in Charlottesville, which hosted the NEH's 50th anniversary with a four-day celebration last September. The city is also home to the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, which received 21 percent of its $6.2 million budget from the NEH last year.

The state provided 19 percent of the foundation's funding, while UVa provided another 10 percent.

UVa received about $2.24 million from NEH and NEA last year. President Teresa A. Sullivan — who was a sociologist before moving to the administrative side of academia — said the agencies are important to the country as a whole.

"The great value of the NEH and the NEA is that they help us preserve the best of our past while envisioning and creating the future," Sullivan said. "Both agencies are valuable to American life."

Rob Vaughn, director of the Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, said he's not yet worried. The Trump administration has not officially announced plans to cut or eliminate the agencies, he said, and they have received bipartisan support in Congress in recent years.

"We are optimistic that the incoming Trump administration will also see the value of the NEH's work with communities around the country," Vaughn said.

The NEH and NEA fund a variety of arts and humanities projects around the country, including documentaries, symposia and research. Libraries, museums and archives all benefit from the grants given out by the two organizations.

Each agency is asking Congress for about $150 million in the upcoming budgetary year.

Even before the election of Trump and rumors of the NEH's demise, people in the humanities were aware that they have a public relations problem.

Shortly before the NEH's 50th anniversary celebration, William Adams, the agency's director, said that he senses that many Americans do not see the value of the humanities because of "a deep tendency in American culture to lean hard in the direction of technical disciplines and technical knowledge."

Increases in student debt and falling revenues have caused many people to question the utility of such programs, Adams told The Daily Progress in September.

"The crushing experience of the recession in 2008 and beyond certainly caused students and parents to question the vocational and economic value of the humanities in their academic forms," Adams said.

Lisa Reilly, chairwoman of UVa's Department of Architectural History, has received two NEH grants. Last year, she directed an NEH-funded symposium for 60 teachers at Monticello and UVa, detailing life on a 19th-century plantation and the world inhabited by Thomas Jefferson, his family and the enslaved laborers who worked for them.

The symposium also showed teachers how to use historic sites in their own towns to teach their students about history in a more engaging way, Reilly said.

The grant provided a stipend of $1,200 to each attendee to cover travel expenses and books. Most of the attendees were social studies teachers, Reilly said, who shared what they learned with colleagues and students.

"Often people think it's fairly esoteric work that only affects a small group of people," she said."By the time you multiply 60 teachers by the students they're teaching, I would think it's in the thousands."

"I think that kind of broadness in how it serves so much of the country that's lost on a lot of people," she added.

Get Breaking News Alerts

* I understand and agree that registration on or use of this site constitutes agreement to its user agreement and privacy policy.
Load comments