NEH Head Says Humanities Funding Still A Question Mark

National Endowment for the Humanities Acting Chairman Jon Peede. (Photo by Jack Williams, NET News)
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October 20, 2017 - 6:45am

National Endowment for the Humanities Acting Chairman Jon Peede was in Omaha recently, his second visit away from Washington D.C. since he was appointed to the role by President Trump in July. Peede spent a number of years with the National Endowment for the Arts in various roles. The NEH has funded 62 grants in Nebraska totaling $11.3 million. Peede spoke with Jack Williams of NET News at the Holland Performing Arts Center in Omaha about his new job and the future of the humanities in Nebraska.   


NET News: There has been talk of funding cuts for the NEA and NEH. Can you give us an update on the status of the funding efforts and are you encouraged at all by some of the negotiations?

Jon Peede: Let me give you a sense of where we are. So Humanities Nebraska, which is an incredible partner for us at the state level, about 39 percent of their budget comes directly from the NEH. So we know that their staff and people across the state very much want to know where the NEH’s budget stands for next year. Right now, the House of Representatives has recommended a budget of $145 million. That would be about a three percent cut. The Senate has not yet disclosed their number, and of course the House and Senate’s budget recommendations will have to be reconciled and presented to the president. And then the president will sign it or not depending on what his priorities are in terms of funding.

NET News: Have you been encouraged by the support, maybe even bipartisan support in terms for continued funding? Things didn’t look great when President Trump took office, but have you been encouraged with how things have turned out since then?

Peede: Well, what I would say is not necessarily speaking to the budget, but what has been very encouraging is the bipartisan support for the arts and humanities and the importance of having the arts and humanities in our schools, in our communities, in our lives. So, members of the administration have all been very clear about that. Now, whether that’s a funding priority or not this year is a different question. But it’s essential to say that across the administration and across Congress, they do understand the value of the arts and humanities. That’s the reason I’m here in Nebraska. 

NET News: With technology changing so rapidly, what do you see as the NEH’s biggest challenges? Are they the fact that you need to get a lot of this stuff into digitized format and projects like that?

Peede: So, the rapidly changing media is a great opportunity and it’s a great challenge. On the one hand, if we think about what we’re doing with Nebraska-Lincoln for example, we have funded a number of works in the digital humanities, and that has been important. So moving things beyond just paper and conserving them, but making them available online, making material available through podcasts. The digital newspaper project that we’ve done statewide has been important. In Nebraska, we have preserved newspapers back to the 1850’s. So, that has been a great way to see technology moving us forward. On the other hand, all across the nation, there are museums that have audio files and platforms we’re no longer using and to migrate that to a new platform is essential and it’s expensive and time-consuming.

NET News: Here’s your chance to sell humanities in Nebraska. Why is this still so important in our society? Why is it important that Nebraskans have a firm grasp on the humanities and know these things?

Peede: The humanities enrich our lives.  As a young boy growing up in Mississippi, I had not been to the Midwest, but Willa Cather took me to the Midwest. That’s not a small thing. She awakened me in a novel to a whole region and whole people, to a whole landscape. We live deeper lives, more meaningful lives when we have the humanities and the arts in our communities and in our homes and in our experience. In many ways, we live increasingly in a bifurcated society. We’re around people that think the same as we (do), have the same politics or the same interests. That’s a shame. That’s not how we got here as a nation. One thing I love about the history of Nebraska when I’m looking at some of the grants is, well, here’s a Germanic settlement and here’s a Czech settlement and Native American populations and that’s the great richness, the cultural richness and the humanities reminds us of that. I believe in culturally enriched lives and I believe in lives of purpose and meaning and I believe a life grounded in the humanities points us toward that.


Editor's Note: NET receives funding for humanities coverage from Humanities Nebraska, which is funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities. 

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