March 13, 2017
Cut the NEH? Small savings, big losses

By the Indiana Humanities Board of Directors

A couple of years ago, Aspire Johnson County launched a series of conversations to bring together hundreds of residents and dozens of businesses to talk about how they can make their county a better place to live, work and play.

Last year, 38 small pop-up exhibits on the Bill of Rights were given—for free—to Indiana schools, libraries and other nonprofits in celebration of its 225th anniversary this year.

And last month, a group of teenagers clustered around a visitor to Franklin Central High School, jockeying for position with smartphones and snapping selfies. Their guest? Indiana poet Adrian Matejka.

What links these and similar events happening this week, next month and the next few years in Indiana? They were all made possible by Indiana Humanities … and they probably won’t happen if Congress cuts funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities from the federal budget.

We understand the desire for a budget that balances, and we know tough choices have to be made. We also know that this proposed cut to the NEH (and other important cultural organizations) would do more harm than good.

First, let’s look at the “good”: Cutting the NEH will save $148 million. By some calculations, this represents .0001 percent of federal spending—roughly equivalent to what the government spends on copy paper and paper clips.

Now the harm: The elimination of the NEH would slash or eliminate programs that serve Indiana communities from Vevay to Valparaiso.

You see, the bulk of the funds received by the NEH is distributed to state-level agencies—including Indiana Humanities—to support programs at the local level. And this is where the story gets really good: On average, for every $1 statewide agencies receive, they leverage $5. Since Indiana Humanities receives slightly more than $800,000 from the NEH each year, that results in an estimated $4 million annual impact for the kind of community-changing programs we described above—and an unquantifiable amount of energy seen when we work with local chambers of commerce and visitors bureaus, small museums and libraries, and businesses that employ top talent.

And why is this so important? Well, these days, we talk a lot about the power of “place” in the growth of thriving economies. We acknowledge that healthy communities require more than houses, commercial districts and infrastructure. And we hold passionately to the democratic principles that define our nation. But, even as we do these things, we neglect some important truths.

As we talk about “place making,” we fail to recognize factors that define our sense of place.

As we chase “quality of life,” we overlook its most tangible components.

As we celebrate democracy, we forget the elements that make it possible.

Think about that last point. How could we have democracy without the words that inspire it? How could we build a democracy without understanding the history of nations? How can we shape democracy without respecting the many cultures, faiths, values, fears and experiences that constitute what we call a nation? And how can we sustain democracy without civil discourse?

In other words, how can we have democracy, sense of place or quality of life without the humanities—history, literature, poetry, philosophy and ethics, world languages and cultures, religious studies, archaeology and related disciplines?

The humanities connect us to each other and help us examine our place in the world. They aren’t partisan. They aren’t a luxury. They are essential elements of the infrastructure of what we call community. The humanities are for everyone—and Indiana Humanities ensures that rural, suburban and urban Hoosiers have access to them.

Yes, cutting the NEH would slightly reduce the federal budget. But that savings pales in comparison to what we would lose as a community, state, nation and people.

Indiana Humanities Board Members:

The Honorable Jerry Torr (Chair), Carmel

State Representative House District 39

Ms. Elizabeth Bechdol (Chair Elect), Auburn

Director of Agribusiness Strategies, Ice Miller

President and CEO, AgriNovus Indiana

Ms. Keira Amstutz, Indianapolis

President and CEO, Indiana Humanities

Ms. Myra Borshoff, Martinsville

Owner, MB Communications LLC

Ms. Carol Ann Bowman, Valparaiso

Corporate Secretary & General Counsel, Whiteco Industries

Ms. Rosemary Dorsa, Indianapolis

Vice President, Indiana Philanthropy Alliance and Director, GIFT Technical Assistance Program

Dr. Edward (Ted) Frantz, Indianapolis

Director for the Institute of Civic Leadership and Mayoral Archives, University of Indianapolis

The Honorable Maria Granger, New Albany

Judge, Floyd County Superior Court #3

The Honorable Christina Hale, Indianapolis

Former State Representative House District 87

Ms. Malina Jeffers, Indianapolis

Director of Engagement and Operations, Midtown Indianapolis

Mr. James M. Macdonald III, Indianapolis

Executive Director & Market Manager, J.P. Morgan Private Bank

Mr. Doran Moreland, Indianapolis

Executive Director, Statewide Diversity and Community Outreach, Ivy Tech Community College

Dr. Beverley J. Pitts, Greenwood

President Emeritus, University of Indianapolis

Mr. Timothy P. Robinson, JD, Indianapolis

Mr. Larry Rowland, Fort Wayne

Retired chairman, Lincoln National Reinsurance Companies

Rabbi Sandy Eisenberg Sasso, Indianapolis

Director of The Religion, the Arts and Spirituality Initiative of Butler University in partnership with Christian Theological Seminary

Mr. Adam D. Thies, Bloomington

Dr. Joseph F. Trimmer, Muncie

Emeritus Professor of English & Director Emeritus, Virginia B. Ball Center for Creative Inquiry, Ball State University

Ms. Susanne Wasson, Indianapolis

Marketing Director, U.S. Crop Protection, Dow AgroSciences LLC

The Honorable Jonathan Weinzapfel, Evansville
Chancellor, Ivy Tech Community College Southwest/Wabash Valley regions; Former Mayor of Evansville

Posted In: Hot off the Press