So many appalling threats to our democratic system are coming out of this administration, it is difficult to know where to put our efforts. Officials in the Trump camp seem to sense that if they keep throwing grenades, the public will give up from sheer fatigue and bewilderment. But, here’s one more to ponder — the elimination of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. While both have been saved temporarily in the budget just passed in order to keep the government running until September, the cuts are still in Trump’s proposed fiscal 2018 budget, still to be acted on.
The abolition of the two endowments may not seem life- threatening, and may seem less urgent than the direct assaults made daily on our democracy. But their dissolution would nevertheless be a major loss to our culture and identity. By culture and identity, I mean not only those of America in general, but more specifically, those of Santa Fe.
As you probably know, state funding for the arts has been reduced to below bare minimum, even though the museums, for example, are among the cultural jewels in our city and bring in revenue. As far as state museums are concerned, the state pays only for employees and maintenance of museum buildings. All programs, including all exhibitions and educational activities — the lifeblood of the institutions — are supported by outside funding, either through private donations or grants, or both in combination.
Santa Fe is fortunate to have many generous patrons, but it is a small city with a disproportionate number of struggling museums, and those benefactors get asked for help repeatedly. They cannot possibly be expected to foot the bill for all the excellent (and costly) programs our museums present. This is where grants are critical.
I was one of the curators of the recent exhibition, The Red that Colored the World, organized by the Museum of International Folk Art. The show, which tied centuries of art in New Mexico and Latin America with art around the globe, was the impetus for a successful Summer of Color in which many local museums and commercial enterprises in Santa Fe collaborated in 2015. The reviews were outstanding from as far away as England, its publication won a major award, and I believe that attendance was doubled during its run.
Our team had won a $400,000 grant for the exhibition, the highest amount awarded in its category by the National Endowment for the Humanities, in competition with major museums across the country. We could not have produced the exhibition without this funding. Among the expensive components of the project were its loans, publication and state-of-the-art climate controlled display cases that allowed the loans from New York, Italy, Spain, England and Mexico to be shown in the extreme aridity of Santa Fe. Once we had secured that funding, itself not sufficient, our exhibition attracted an incredible level of support from enthusiastic private sources. Both private and public contributions were critical.
The National Endowment for the Arts and National Endowment for the Humanities leverage private support to ensure the work of cultural institutions throughout the country, in small towns as well as large metropolitan areas. Are you proud of your community’s heritage? Do you want these offerings to continue in Santa Fe? Do not be fooled by the bogus argument that these agencies benefit only the elite. Here in Santa Fe, we have abundant evidence that the agencies are there for us all.
Barbara Anderson worked in museums in California before coming to Santa Fe as director of the state Museum Resources Division in the New Mexico Department of Cultural Affairs (2008-2012) and curator of the Museum of International Folk Art’s 2015 exhibition, The Red that Colored the World.