Today President Donald J. Trump unveiled his preliminary FY18 budget proposal and sadly there are no surprises in there when it comes to crucial funding for museums. The museum field has been working these scenarios for awhile, imagining the consequences of zeroed-out federal funding and takings steps to prevent it. For six years now, I’ve joined my colleagues in DC each February for Museums Advocacy Day. In meetings with our elected officials and their staff, we talk about the importance of the Institute for Museum and Library Service, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the National Endowment for the Humanities and we demonstrate the economic and educational impacts their funding has on us and our audiences. All three were targeted for defunding today along with numerous other essential agencies and programs.
You may not know this, but the Abbe Museum benefits immensely from federal grants that we competitively apply for, almost annually. Our recently opened core exhibit, People of the First Light, was partially funded by IMLS to the tune of $150,000 in matching funds.
Prior to this project, in 2013 we received a $144,350 matching grant award in support of our project “Training Maine’s Classroom Teachers to Meet the Wabanaki Initiative.” Now in its second decade, Maine Law L.D. 291, more commonly known as the Wabanaki Initiative, continues to be an unfunded mandate requiring that K-12 teachers in all Maine schools teach about the history, culture, and people of the Wabanaki tribes. Designed as a three-year project, we created and implemented a comprehensive teacher training and evaluation program that ultimately reached over 800 classroom educators in Maine. And through these programs, the teachers directly connected us to 8,000 – 16,000 Maine schoolchildren in every corner of the state. This work continues for the Abbe and IMLS funding created a catalyst for deeper collaboration with teachers and their classrooms.
This past December we applied for another IMLS grant to help us with our decolonization initiatives and we have plans to submit yet another application this spring in support of our staff’s professional development strategies for inclusion, diversity, accessibility, and equity in the workplace.
Turning to NEH, grant funding has been the catalyst to our Greening the Abbe initiative, now in its second phase of fundraising. In 2013, we were awarded $220,000 in NEH funding to install a new, efficient LED lighting system in the Main Gallery and overhaul our dehumidification system to be both more efficient and effective. We continue to make improvements, and most recently we converted to propane heating and upgraded our insulation to prevent roof and eaves heat loss. The NEH grant award continues to motivate donors and other grantmakers as we green the Abbe. It should also be noted that NEH fuels grant funding that the Maine Humanities Council distributes and the Abbe has received numerous grant awards through the years for exhibits and programs.
Of equal importance is the grant funding we received from NEA, either directly or via the Maine Arts Commission. In 2008, the Abbe applied for and received grant funding from NEA to produce educational programs in conjunction with our first Twisted Path contemporary art exhibit, and the fourth installment in the exhibit series opens April 7.
Read what Abbe friend Devon Akmon, Director of the Arab American National Museum, a Smithsonian Affiliate, has to say about the proposed cuts.
These are just a few examples that the Abbe offers, and there are thousands of museums across the US that benefit from federal grants like these. Together we are a $704 billion industry, 4.2% of the entire US economy. We spend $2 billion each year on education activities. Federal granting is an investment in the US economy sustaining 400,000 jobs that directly contribute $21 billion to the US economy each year. That’s nothing to sniff at, folks.
Last month, Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and 22 of their colleagues wrote to President Trump asking him to keep NEA and NEH funding intact. I am incredibly grateful for their support, but it’s up to all of us to contact our representatives in Congress and tell them to keep NEH, NEA, and IMLS in the FY18 budget and level funding. Find your legislator here and let them know how the arts and humanities matter to you and your community. We can all work together and advocate for the importance of federal museum funding.