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October 9, 2022—I am both excited and encouraged by President Joe Biden’s declaration of October 2022 as National Arts and Humanities Month, which includes a new Executive Order re-establishing the President’s Committee on the Arts and the Humanities (PCAH).
The Executive Order refers to the arts as “essential to the well-being, health, vitality, and democracy of our Nation. They are the soul of America, reflecting our multicultural and democratic experience,” and seeks to strengthen the creative and cultural economy of the United States by promoting the arts, humanities, and museum and library services.
This also is an important boost (as well as a pledge of financial support) for the National Endowment of the Arts (NEA) and the National Endowment of the Humanities (NEH)—both of which are chaired by women of color—Maria Rosario Jackson and Shelley Lowe. The work of the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) also was promoted in the Executive Order, along with a pledge for expanded funding.
According to the announcement shared by the National Endowment of the Arts, the scope of PCAH will include the integration of “the arts, humanities, and museum and library services into policies, programs, and partnerships throughout the federal government to tackle the greatest challenges of our time, such as the climate crisis and the scourge of hate-fueled violence.”
The PCAH was dissolved five years ago after its members resigned in protest over the former president’s handling of the deadly white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va. In response, the former president withdrew the group’s funding, describing it as “not a responsible way to spend American tax dollars.”
President Biden’s Executive Order comes at a critical time when protests demonizing and opposing the promotion of Equity, Diversity, Inclusion and Access values via arts, culture and education are at a fever pitch.
That’s why I found the comments about the announcement by Crosby Kemper, Director of the IMLS, to be a potent reminder of the value of these institutions during a time when groups are protesting art exhibitions, pushing to defund public libraries, and seeking to ban books.
Mr. Kemper said: “As two of the most trusted institutions, libraries and museums provide access that allows us to engage with the arts, humanities, and diverse cultures to bring about a more informed and engaged society.”
In other words, he is reminding us that libraries and museums also are essential gateways for access to the arts!
It is heartening to me that America’s arts and cultural institutions continue to endure, despite these attacks. Yes, over the years, we have taken some hits and some of us lost critical funding. Still, I am proud to say that our arts and cultural community remained unbowed. We did not quit. And due to our persistence, we have continued to manifest a creative circle of light providing access to our audiences, communities and youth, even when our doors were closed by the global COVID-19 pandemic and we had to take our work online.
Thank you for your persistence in demonstrating to our greater communities the value of the arts. Thank you for protecting this bridge of hope and healing; a necessity without which our spirits cannot be renewed. As we begin this new chapter in which the government is supporting (and financing) engagement with the arts, culture, libraries, and museums, let’s expand our efforts to fully embrace the values of equity and inclusion to extend even more invitations of access to our diverse audiences.