The Trump administration’s 2018 budget calls for the complete elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS). This draconian act would be a harsh setback for the George Eastman Museum and other arts, cultural, and educational institutions. It would harm many people who benefit from the agencies’ programs: artists; scholars and students; veterans and the disabled; and children, parents, and the elderly. It is urgent that we all advocate for these institutions, which are invaluable to our culture and society.
In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act, which referenced 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.”
The legislation proclaimed that our democracy must “honor and preserve its multicultural artistic heritage as well as support new ideas, and therefore . . . provide financial assistance to its artists and the organizations that support their work.” With great foresight, it also recognized the essential role of arts and humanities in the rapidly evolving technological landscape: “Democracy demands wisdom and vision in its citizens. It must therefore foster and support a form of education, and access to the arts and humanities, designed to make people of all backgrounds and wherever located masters of their technology and not its unthinking servants.”
This landmark bill to establish the NEA and NEH was supported by members of Congress on both sides of the aisle. For more than fifty years, these agencies have allocated funds to support, enhance, and preserve artistic and cultural history and the legacy of American artists and to enable millions of citizens to experience the arts.
In 1996, the Institute of Museum and Library Services was created by combining the Institute of Museum Services and the Library Programs Office. Its mission is to “create strong libraries and museums that connect people with information and ideas” by working “to sustain heritage, culture, and knowledge; enhance learning and innovation; and support professional development.” Its vision is “a democratic society where communities and individuals thrive with broad public access to knowledge, cultural heritage, and lifelong learning.”
Over the past 25 years, the Eastman Museum has received more than $5 million from the NEA, NEH, and IMLS—supporting almost every aspect of our mission. These grants have enabled our institution to undertake projects it could not otherwise afford. Given the artistic, historical, technological, and scientific significance of our collections, the museum places a high priority on preserving objects. Accordingly, the greatest funding from these agencies has been for preservation and conservation projects.
The Lost World (Harry O. Hoyt, US 1925), restored by the George Eastman Museum in 1994 with principal funding from the National Endowment for the Arts.
With NEA and NEH grants, the museum has preserved about 800 films—many rare, many unique to the museum, and many from the silent era—onto new film stock so that they can be publicly exhibited. The NEA was the primary supporter of several exhibitions and our project to preserve 1,270 daguerreotypes by Southworth and Hawes. Recently, the NEH made two major grants to the museum: $300,000 for critical upgrades to the environmental controls in our photography and technology vaults, and $200,000 for our Technicolor Online Research Archive. The IMLS recently made grants to organize and create finding aids for papers in our library’s special collections ($149,997) and to catalog and digitize our renowned Gabriel Cromer collection of nineteenth-century French photography ($148,079).
Federal grants have helped the Eastman Museum advance our mission for the benefit of the Rochester community and the larger universe of individuals whose lives are enriched by preservation of and access to objects in our collection.
A hallmark of our humanity and a shared expression of the human spirit, the arts touch people throughout their lives. Arts and cultural institutions educate, improve quality of life, employ millions of individuals, promote tourism, and serve as catalysts for progress.
The George Eastman Museum urges you to reach out to members of Congress—where there has been strong bipartisan support for the NEA, NEH, and IMLS—and demand sustained funding for these agencies, which play such a vital role in our cultural lives and democratic society.
For information on how you can advocate for these agencies, visit eastman.org/advocacy.
Ron and Donna Fielding Director
May/June 2017 Bulletin