President Trump’s Fiscal Year 2019 budget proposes to eliminate three significant independent agencies that provide crucial funding for research, programming, and exhibition of the arts and humanities — the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). The Council for Museum Anthropology strongly opposes this short-sighted proposal. We remind the White House that these agencies play a vital and unique role in supporting state, local, community, and grassroots organizations that enrich our appreciation of the arts and humanities, grow our understanding of our nation’s diverse history, and preserve our nation’s historical collections. They also have huge impacts among small communities and tribal museums, archives, and libraries that we as museum anthropologists work with closely.
Among the agencies threatened, the NEH funds humanities councils in every state and U.S. territory which sponsor family literacy programs, speakers’ bureaus, cultural heritage tourism, exhibitions, and live performances. NEH also provides more than 2,000 grants to smaller institutions for assistance in preserving historical collections and, through a unique interagency funding partnership with the National Science Foundation, supports projects to develop and advance knowledge toward endangered language revitalization in Native American and other communities. In this area, relatively small amounts of money carry huge weight and impact for communities. IMLS funds many community-based programs for museums and cultural heritage sites, without which it would be more difficult for many people to gain access to the internet, continue their education, learn critical research skills, and find employment. From 2002 to 2011, the IMLS Grants to States program alone supplied $980 million to support increased access to digital information, including $67 million toward the digitization of local history and special collections. NEA supports many small organizations and communities that rely on this funding to survive. For instance, 65% of NEA grants go to small and medium sized organizations, which tend to support projects that benefit audiences that otherwise might not have access to arts programming, 40% of NEA-supported activities take place in high-poverty neighborhoods, and more than half of NEA-funded art events take place in locations where the median household income is less than $50,000.
Museums reach a large, diverse public audience. They make research, science, humanities, art, and history accessible to millions of school children and adults each year. According to a study published in Education Next, an education journal at Stanford University, students who attend a field trip to an art museum experience an increase in critical thinking skills, historical empathy and tolerance. For students from rural or high-poverty regions, the increase was even more significant.
When museums flourish, so do our communities. The American Alliance of Museums (AAM)released a new study, Museums as Economic Engines (2017), that shows that for every $100 of economic activity created by museums, an additional $220 is created in other sectors of the US economy; museums contribute approximately $50 billion to the US economy each year, a number that’s more than twice previous estimates. Moreover, museums are a key component of the $171 billion cultural tourism industry; research shows that museum visitors spend more and stay longer than other tourists, boosting our local eateries, hotels, and other businesses.
The CMA stands with AAM in its opposition to the 2019 budget, and “remains committed to helping ensure that all legislators understand the profound economic, educational, and community benefits that museums bring their constituents with the help of these vital federal investments.”
Council for Museum Anthropology Board of Directors, March 22, 2018