John Inscore Essick is a co-pastor at Port Royal Baptist Church in Henry County, Kentucky and teaches Christian History at the Baptist Seminary of Kentucky. But more importantly, he is a regular reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home! I am pleased to see him taking to the pages of the Louisville Courier-Journal to defend the humanities in light of Trump’s recent budget proposal.
Here is a taste of his op-ed: “We’ll Be Poorer With Trump’s Cuts to Arts”
In 1961, a hundred years after America’s deadliest war began, distinguished Kentuckian Robert Penn Warren wrote that the Civil War left a “gallery of great human images for our contemplation.”
In the years since the beginning of that bloody struggle, novelists, poets, artists, photographers, filmmakers, playwrights, musicians, teachers and historians have worked to help us contemplate the impact of the Civil War on us individually and collectively.
Since 1965, their contemplative work has benefited from funding by the National Endowment for the Humanities and National Endowment for the Arts. As you may have heard, both of these federal agencies are slated to be defunded under President Trump’s proposed budget. As Bill Goodman recently noted in his op-ed, however, the positive impact of these agencies far outweighs their minimal budgetary cost.
Thanks to the NEH, for example, we have Ken Burns’ excellent and very popular PBS documentary, “The Civil War” (first broadcast in 1990 and rebroadcast in 2015). PBS funding, by the way, is also threatened by President Trump’s proposed budget. How many Kentuckians were among the nearly 40 million viewers to experience Burns’ award-winning examination of the Civil War?
Continuing on the Civil War theme, a grant from NEH made it possible for 80 Kentucky teachers to attend a week-long workshop examining new scholarship on border states during the Civil War.
Thanks to the NEA, since 1969 the nonprofit arts and education center Appalshop in Whitesburg in Letcher County has been chronicling the history, folklore and artistic traditions of Appalachian Kentucky. Appalshop’s work includes, among other things, the cataloging and preservation of 1.8 million feet of 16 mm black-and-white film, 4,000 hours of video, and 2,500 hours of audio. Because of NEA funds, Kentuckians are working to tell the story of Appalachia, challenge stereotypes of Appalachia, support efforts for justice and equity in Appalachia, and celebrate the diversity of Appalachia.
Robert Penn Warren went on to write that “[h]istory cannot give us a program for the future, but it can give us a fuller understanding of ourselves, and of our common humanity so that we can better face the future.” For more than 50 years the NEA and NEH have been helping us contemplate who we have been and who we might yet be. Given our current political climate, this is a time to renew and reaffirm our financial commitment to efforts at fostering empathy, understanding and virtue. If passed, President Trump’s proposed reduction in national funding for the arts and humanities will erode our ability to contemplate the gallery of human images from our past, present, and future, and we will be the poorer for it.