“The arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States.” — The National Foundation of the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965
It was a philosopher named George Santayana from the 1800s who said: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”
The phrase rings eerily true in our political climate today. Nearly every element of democracy as we know it seems to be threatened under Donald Trump’s reign; from human rights to health, and even the arts. The crosshairs of the Oval Office moved over the The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) when President Trump released his budget proposal last month. The proposal calls for the elimination of the two endowments and zero funding for CPB. The budgets for the NEA and NEH equal about $300 million annually.
While Trump pinpointing the arts might seem mild compared to the power that he could exude as the commander-in-chief, it’s Santayana’s quote that reminds us why these organizations were first created.
That’s something Jason Kelly, the director of the IUPUI Arts and Humanities Institute, thinks about a lot. When he first read about the proposed cuts, he went back to the original language of the National Foundation of the Arts and the Humanities Act of 1965.
“When you hear [the words of the bill] you are like, ‘yes, exactly!,’” says Kelly.
He’s right. This legislation reads like a piece of classic literature.
“The first principle is that the arts and humanities belong to all people of the United States,” he says. “And they continue on, [saying] that the support of national scholarship in the humanities and arts is an appropriate matter of concern to the federal government.”
Kelly went on to quote part of the Act: “Democracy demands wisdom and vision.”
This is a sentiment that is pivotal when you consider that the document was penned during the Cold War.
“There [was] a real concern about nuclear technology, and the people who created this have in the back of their head that the arts and humanities help us think more generally about our futures, not just our pasts…,” says Kelly. “Specifically, in this document it states that it helped make us the masters of our technology and not its unthinking servants.
“Science and technology help us get places, and I am paraphrasing a guy named Glenn Seaborg [the head of the atomic energy commission in the 1960s],” says Kelly. “He said that science and technology provides us the means to travel swiftly, but they don’t tell us what course we should take in going there. It’s really the arts and humanities that help us do that. It’s that process of reflection.”
It’s not a new argument that the study of liberal arts is primarily a way to examine the world, but it’s helpful to consider what Indy might look like without them . . . . (continued in NUVO)