Trump’s plan to ax fund­ing for arts, hu­man­i­ties will hurt us all


Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s re­ported plan to elim­i­nate the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Arts (NEA) and the Na­tional En­dow­ment for the Hu­man­i­ties (NEH) re­flects a pro­found lack of un­der­stand­ing of the value and mean­ing of the arts and hu­man­i­ties in Amer­i­can life.

And the im­pact of the pro­posed cuts will be felt right here in Austin.

For in­stance, I am the di­rec­tor of the Harry Ran­som Cen­ter, a re­search li­brary and mu­seum at the Univer­sity of Texas that makes its rich cul­tural col­lec­tions avail­able to all for free. On dis­play in the lobby are three trea­sures of our culture: a Guten­berg Bi­ble, the ear­li­est sur­viv­ing pho­to­graph and Frida Kahlo’s re­mark­able “Self-Por­trait with Thorn Neck­lace and Hum­ming­bird.” In the gal­leries, the Ran­som Cen­ter hosts a va­ri­ety of ever-chang­ing ex­hi­bi­tions that in re­cent years have in­cluded “The King James Bi­ble: Its His­tory and In­flu­ence,” “Shake­speare in Print and Per­for­mance” and “The World at War, 1914-1918.”

The pro­posed elim­i­na­tion of fund­ing for the NEA and the NEH threat­ens this type of work and threat­ens to dis­place art and culture from the cen­ter of our lives.

The Ran­som Cen­ter’s ex­hi­bi­tion pro­gram is just one ex­am­ple of the NEH’s work in the Austin com­mu­nity. A re­cent chal­lenge grant from the NEH cre­ated an en­dow­ment that pro­vides an­nual op­er­at­ing sup­port for the cen­ter’s ex­hi­bi­tion pro­gram and al­lows us to share th­ese col­lec­tions with all. The en­dorse­ment of our work by the agency also made it pos­si­ble to at­tract pri­vate con­tri­bu­tions that have now far sur­passed the orig­i­nal in­vest­ment, thus com­pound­ing many times over the pos­i­tive im­pact of our tax dol­lars.

Those who sug­gest the govern­ment should have no role sup­port­ing such ac­tiv­i­ties should re­mem­ber that the arts and culture have al­ways been closely aligned with our na­tional story. After the burn­ing of our Capi­tol dur­ing the War of 1812, Congress had the fore­sight to ac­quire the li­brary of Thomas Jef­fer­son as the foun­da­tion for what is to­day the Li­brary of Congress. Dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion, Eu­dora Welty, Zora Neale Hurston and nu­mer­ous other writ­ers and artists un­der­took fed­eral com­mis­sions, and Walker Evans pro­duced a se­ries of pho­to­graphs that will al­ways de­fine that pe­riod in our na­tion’s life.

The idea that culture should be pri­va­tized and its ben­e­fi­cia­ries lim­ited to those who can af­ford to pay is fun­da­men­tally un­demo­cratic and fails to rec­og­nize the valu­able con­tri­bu­tions the arts and hu­man­i­ties have to make to­ward our shared civic life. The arts and hu­man­i­ties cel­e­brate in­di­vid­ual cre­ativ­ity while also serv­ing to re­mind us of all that we have in com­mon.

In re­cent years, the NEH has helped the Ran­som Cen­ter pre­serve his­tor­i­cal ar­chives that would oth­er­wise have been threat­ened by the slow fires of time. It has en­sured the sur­vival of en­dan­gered au­dio record­ings and funded the cat­a­loging of nu­mer­ous col­lec­tions in­clud­ing — to sin­gle out just one — the archive of the Amer­i­can de­signer Nor­man Bel Ged­des, who helped give shape and form to Amer­ica’s fu­ture.

The ques­tion for us to­day is: What fu­ture we will leave those who follow us? Our li­braries and mu­se­ums are noth­ing more — and noth­ing less — than re­flec­tions of who we are and what we value as a so­ci­ety. What we choose to re­mem­ber de­fines our na­tional char­ac­ter and the na­ture of the coun­try we will pass on to our chil­dren.

For more than 50 years, the NEA and the NEH have cel­e­brated the best in this still-evolv­ing na­tional story — and they have been a pow­er­ful check against the forces of for­get­ting.

Re: Feb. 17 ar­ti­cle, “City Coun­cil ap­proves aid for im­mi­grants after emo­tional de­bate.”

I am writ­ing to thank Austin City Coun­cil Mem­ber Greg Casar for his work on be­half of im­mi­grant fam­i­lies. As a so­cial worker at an Austin high school, I have seen first­hand the im­pact of re­cent raids: chil­dren ab­sent from school be­cause they are too afraid to leave fam­ily at home; teen sur­vivors of abuse un­will­ing to risk con­tact­ing po­lice; and par­ents un­able to at­tend par­ent-teacher con­fer­ences be­cause they are afraid of driv­ing.

The suf­fer­ing of th­ese chil­dren and their fam­i­lies is very real. Casar’s quick use of so­cial me­dia helped spread the word about the raids to my stu­dents, and I have been im­pressed with the follow-up from his of­fice. I hope the re­cent ap­proval of $200,000 in emer­gency city fund­ing to pro­vide le­gal aid to im­mi­grants brings some re­lief.

Re: Feb. 21 ar­ti­cle, “Sid Miller to ap­prove new tech­nique for killing feral hogs: poi­son.”

In ref­er­ence to Agri­cul­ture Com­mis­sioner Sid Miller’s de­ci­sion to poi­son feral hogs with war­farin: I worry about public health con­cerns, as well as the suf­fer­ing an an­i­mal en­dures.

I have cared for those suf­fer­ing from in­ter­nal bleed­ing — a pos­si­ble con­se­quence of war­farin use. War­farin causes pro­longed suf­fer­ing, a cruel death for hogs and other wildlife.

Most chem­i­cals now end up in our drink­ing wa­ter even­tu­ally. De­vel­op­ing chil­dren are es­pe­cially vul­ner­a­ble to the side ef­fects of poi­sons.

Miller should gather re­search and feed­back be­fore rashly de­cid­ing to poi­son feral hogs.

Of­fi­cial talk about im­mi­grants has fo­cused on the po­ten­tial harm they do. Rather lit­tle is made of how much im­mi­grants do — as con­sumers and by tak­ing on dif­fi­cult jobs — to en­er­gize the econ­omy.

This neg­a­tive talk does lit­tle to solve eco­nomic woes. In­stead, it gen­er­ates a sense of hys­te­ria that re­sem­bles that fol­low­ing the at­tacks of 9/11. And just as 9/11 was used to jus­tify the U.S. in­ter­ven­tion in Iraq, I am fear­ful the ris­ing tide of pop­u­lar hys­te­ria could soon be used to jus­tify sim­i­lar, ill-con­ceived poli­cies.


Univer­sity of Texas Sys­tem Chan­cel­lor Bill McRaven, seen ear­lier this month, has de­nounced Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump’s at­tacks on the me­dia as a “threat to democ­racy.”


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