One of my work responsibilities this weekend is to draft a letter in support of continued federal funding for the National Endowment for the Humanities. In preparing to write the letter, I decided to return to the piece of legislation that established both the NEH and the NEA, the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965 (P.L. 89-209).
Given the political context in which we are currently operating, it is worth reflecting on this piece of legislation — specifically its text, which outline a set of principles that remain relevant today. If you’ve never read it before, I encourage you to do so. Then, contact your representatives and ask them to support continued funding for the NEA and NEH.
I have included the full text of the act below and have highlighted several important passages.
AN ACT To provide for the establishment of the National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities to promote progress and scholarship in the humanities and the arts in the United States, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
Section 1. This Act may be cited as the “National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act of 1965”.
(20 U.S.C. 951, note) Enacted Sept. 29, 1965. P.L. 89-202, sec. 1, 79 Stat. 845; amended May 31 1984, P.L. 98-306, sec. 2, 98 Stat. 223; amended Dec. 20, 1985, P.L. 99-194, sec. 101, 99 Stat. 1332.
DECLARATION OF FINDINGS AND PURPOSES
SEC. 2. The Congress finds and declares the following:
(1) The arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States.
(2) The encouragement and support of national progress and scholarship in the humanities and the arts, while primarily a matter for private and local initiative, are also appropriate matters of concern to the Federal Government.
(3) An advanced civilization must not limit its efforts to science and technology alone, but must give full value and support to the other great branches of scholarly and cultural activity in order to achieve a better understanding of the past, a better analysis of the present, and a better view of the future.
(4) Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and the humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.
(5) It is necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to complement, assist, and add to programs for the advancement of the humanities and the arts by local, State, regional, and private agencies and their organizations. In doing so, the Government must be sensitive to the nature of public sponsorship. Public funding of the arts and humanities is subject to the conditions that traditionally govern the use of public money. Such funding should contribute to public support and confidence in the use of taxpayer funds. Public funds provided by the Federal Government must ultimately serve public purposes the Congress defines.
(6) The arts and the humanities reflect the high place accorded by the American people to the nation’s rich cultural heritage and to the fostering of mutual respect for the diverse beliefs and values of all persons and groups.
(7) The practice of art and the study of the humanities require constant dedication and devotion. While no govermment can call a great artist or scholar into existence, it is necessary and appropriate for the Federal Government to help create and sustain not only a climate encouraging freedom of thought, imagination, and inquiry but also the material conditions facilitating the release of this creative talent.
(8) The world leadership which has come to the United States cannot rest solely upon superior power, wealth, and technology, but must be solidly founded upon worldwide respect and admiration for the Nation’s high qualities as a leader in the realm of ideas and of the spirit.
(9) Americans should receive in school, background and preparation in the arts and humanities to enable them to recognize and appreciate the aesthetic dimensions of our lives, the diversity of excellence that comprises our cultural heritage, and artistic and scholarly expression.
(10) It is vital to democracy to honor and preserve its multicultural artistic heritage as well as support new ideas, and therefore it is essential to provide financial assistance to its artists and the organizations that support their work.
(11) To fulfill its educational mission, achieve an orderly continuation of free society, and provide models of excellence to the American people, the Federal Government must transmit the achievement and values of civilization from the past via the present to the future, and make widely available the greatest achievements of art.
(12) In order to implement these findings and purposes, it is desirable to Establish a National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities.
(20 U.S.C. 951) Enacted Nov. 5, 1990, P.L. 101-512, sec. 101, 104 Stat. 1961.