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Uncharted Course: Advocating for Arts and Humanities Grants


2017-02-28_08-09-50We are living in a historically unique moment for philanthropy, fundraising, and grant-giving in the US. 2016 was the country’s most generous year to date – and 2017 may very well top it. However, last fall’s elections noticeably altered the American philanthropic landscape and will likely continue to do so. We saw immediate and dramatic giving in early November, as well as more directed funds (and direct action) in response to specific issues like a recently proposed travel ban. Projected trends note substantive differences to the power structure behind charitable giving, as well as where money will go and how it will be managed. One likely change is that under the Trump administration, both the NEA and NEH will be defunded.
Congress established the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) in 1965. Both organizations were created to ensure government support of the arts and humanities, in response to a similar precedent of funding for sciences. “Science and technology are providing us with the means to travel swiftly,” Glenn Seaborg, head of the Atomic Energy Commission, told the Senate in 1963, when arguing for the government to back arts and humanities budgeting. “But what course do we take? This is the question that no computer can answer.”
Arguments about the value of arts and humanities, over science, or arts and humanities for their own sake certainly aren’t new, and although programs like the NEA account for a very small portion of national spending, they are in real danger of being eliminated. Although this battle is familiar, citizens have more ways than ever to express their concerns and support the arts and humanities. Here are some ideas:
1. Appreciate and Understand the Institutions
The NEA and NEH are independent federal agencies that fund state institutions and offer grants to organizations and individuals. Both support veterans, indigenous heritage, and accessibility; both are dedicated to funding projects in rural, underserved areas. The combined budgets of the NEA and NEH account for less than 1 percent of federal spending each year.
To get a sense of how important these organizations are, find out how they influence your state here and here. In Montana, where Submittable is located, current supported projects include writers in the schools, indigenous language and cultural preservation, museums, performing arts, and literature. This list provides a fantastic sense of the diverse scope of NEA funding – and this page gives a great overview of recent NEH projects.
If you’re a writer or artist, consider also your national community. Countless arts and literary groups are funded by the NEA – here’s just a small sampling of recently supported organizations who use Submittable: A Public Space, AWP, Coffee House Press, Copper Canyon Press, Dance Films Association, Kenyon Review, Lighthouse Writers, Loft, Milkweed Editions, and Nightboat. Without funding, the organizations you submit to, take workshops from, and enjoy books by may struggle to stay afloat.
2. Personalize Your Stance
Understanding how the NEA and NEH have or might or will impact you makes for powerful sharing. Check out #SavetheNEA and #SavetheNEH for great examples of people highlighting individual stories – and follow the NEA and NEH social networks to show support (links are on the top of both organization pages).
Contact your representatives and other elected officials to let them know you value these organizations – personal stories make a big impact. PEN America offers excellent phone scripts, as well as other resistance ideas. They also recommend the Resistance Calendar and Town Hall Project for further engagement.
Is it true that artists need to build stronger networks by borrowing tactics from conservative organizing in the 90s? Well, it certainly couldn’t hurt. Most writers and artists are involved in organizations through which they might raise awareness about this issue and bring together support. Broadway World used their website to share a collection of NEA endorsements from around the US. Consider spreading the message using an organization’s social media, blog or newsletter.
Artists and writers are uniting across the country in local action groups. Foster community within your genre through organizations like Writers Resist or consider organizing an event – last weekend, Aquila Theatre in New York City hosted a reading by members of their NEH-funded Veteran’s program, The Warrior Chorus. American veterans read scenes from Ancient Greek literature and philosophy to promote awareness about the NEH.
3. Give General Support
While you can’t donate directly to the NEH, you can give money to state Humanities Councils and the National Humanities Alliance. There are restrictions on giving to the NEA and you cannot use Facebook fundraising for them. According to their page, “The National Endowment for the Arts can in no way be construed/characterized as endorsing fundraising efforts. As an independent federal agency, the NEA name or logo may not be used in conjunction with any fundraising events or efforts and we cannot play a role in these efforts.”
This does not prohibit, however, other forms of fundraising indirectly on their behalf or contributions to projects like John Estabrook’s ANTHEM for the Arts Campaign. This project will donate proceeds to the Americans for the Arts Action Fund, which is another organization you can support. It’s free to become a member and their Action Center is an excellent resource. If you’d like to receive other action alerts, Poets & Writers has organized a system.
Even senators are signing letters and petitions. Here are a few petitions, through PEN America, Change.org, and Americans for the Arts.You can also launch your own petition through Change.org, We the People, AVAAZ, and Care2.
4. Advocacy, Sharing, and Submittable
If you live in DC or can travel there, consider visiting your representatives in person, or take part in Arts Advocacy Day from March 20 to 27. Many states put on their own Advocacy Days: Minnesota, Texas, Alabama, Iowa, and many others.
When you take action, share it with your social networks to get friends and family involved. You could even organize a letter-writing party. Perhaps the most powerful form of support is to renew your dedication to patronizing the arts and humanities in your community. Visit museums, go to performances, buy books, and help fund those organizations that will need it most in the coming years.
Although the defunding of the NEA and NEH has yet to be confirmed, there has never been a better time to show support. As a company that serves (and employs) artists and writers, Submittable believes in organizations like the NEA and NEH because they help us all thrive. Our software is perfect for hosting a contest to raise funds, organizing sponsorships and events, and collecting visual testimonials from your supporters. You might even consider Add-on Payments for donations to support the NEA/NEH via resistance groups or state humanities councils (or for your organization should funding be eliminated) – perhaps you’ll create a special magazine issue celebrating these causes. We’re always here to help, so please be in touch at any time – let’s stand together.

Rachel Mindell

Rachel Mindell is Senior Editor for Submittable's Marketing Team. She also writes and teaches poetry. You can find Rachel's creative work here: rachelmindell.com