The government shutdown is placing our democracy at risk and depleting our culture. Let me explain.
As the board chair of the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities, I have the honor of chairing an organization that has strengthened the civic and cultural fabric of our state for over 45 years. The Humanities Council is the state’s only dedicated source of funding for public humanities programs and projects. Thanks to more than $8 million funding 1,700+ grants through 650+ organizations, thousands of Rhode Islanders have created and gained access to history, culture, civic dialogue, and education.
The current federal government shutdown has a direct and tangible impact on the Humanities Council and more importantly on our grantees and on the communities we serve. As noted by Admiral Thad Allen, 23rd commandant of the United States Coast Guard in an NPR interview, the shutdown is, “…probably …the greatest civics lesson of our lifetime right now.”
While the humanities are often seen as a “soft” expense, they are in fact what teach us the most about who we are as citizens of this world, how crucial our civic duty is, what opportunities and challenges lay ahead for us, and how we can handle them. They provide the critical thinking skills, knowledge, and context required to make sound decisions for our future, and they help us understand and value the diverse cultural experiences that construct this nation and are essential to its functioning.
The federal government shutdown, now the longest in U.S. history, has many repercussions, some immediate and direct, others long term and gradual. One of these is the halting of operations of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) which provides the lion’s share of funding for the grants that our Humanities Council provides to the dedicated, innovative, and essential organizations and individuals who serve Rhode Islanders.
Since its founding, the NEH has provided a blueprint to support this nation’s greatness through thoughtful decisions: “Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.” We, in Rhode Island, can be proud that the late RI Senator Claiborne Pell was one of the founders of both the NEH and the National Endowment for the Arts.
A local-national partnership, the Humanities Council relies on both federal government funding and the generous support of individual donors, foundations, businesses and corporations in Rhode Island. The local support that the Humanities Council receives is now more vital than ever. If the government shutdown continues, the Humanities Council’s grant program will be affected. Support to Rhode Islanders will be affected. Our culture will be affected. Our access to civic education will be affected. Our stories will be lost.
You and I have the power to change this paralyzing prospect.
While the federal government shutdown persists, many Humanities Council board members, myself included, are choosing to make our contributions earlier this year to ensure that the Humanities Council does not interrupt services during this shutdown, an interruption that would inevitably impact communities across our state. If you regularly include a gift to the Humanities Council in your annual philanthropic support, we hope you will join us a bit earlier this year with a gift today at rihumanities.org/get-involved/donate and we also hope you will continue to show up in support of our wonderful grantees and partners.
You know firsthand the impact our grantees and partners have on your community – from museums, to libraries, and cultural organizations, artists, scholars, librarians, curators, storytellers and filmmakers work tirelessly to gather communities together, build bridges, and preserve and tell our stories. These stories matter and make history.
Thank you for standing with us and for your continued and generous support.
Board Chair, Rhode Island Council for the Humanities,
Associate Provost for Academic Administration and Faculty Affairs; Co-founder, Wheaton Institute for the Interdisciplinary Humanities, Wheaton College