LAS faculty advocate for arts and humanities on Capitol Hill

Pictured from left: Leanne Hotek, University of Iowa; Terri Donofrio, Coe College; Teresa Mangum, University of Iowa; James Lambert, Southern Virginia University and University of Iowa alum; Barbara Ching, Iowa State University; Michael Bailey, Iowa State University. Photo by Teresa Mangum.
Pictured from left: Leanne Hotek, University of Iowa; Terri Donofrio, Coe College; Teresa Mangum, University of Iowa; James Lambert, Southern Virginia University and University of Iowa alum; Barbara Ching, Iowa State University; Michael Bailey, Iowa State University. Photo by Teresa Mangum.

As proposals to slash the federal budget for the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities stir on Capitol Hill, faculty from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences recently joined dozens of influencers from communities around the nation on National Humanities Alliance Advocacy Day in Washington D.C.

In March, Barbara Ching, professor and chair of English, and Michael Bailey, professor of history and interim director of the Center for Excellence in the Arts and Humanities (CEAH), joined faculty from Iowa universities and colleges to advocate to keep the funding that helps libraries stay open, supports cultural heritage programs, promotes global understanding through lectures, classes and workshops, and more.

“For the first time ever, we have an administration that is proposing to completely cut funding for the arts and humanities,” Bailey said. “That’s a scary thought, and it’s encouraging us to think more about why the humanities are important and how we can pass that message on to our state representatives.”

The Annual Meeting and Humanities Advocacy Day spanned March 13 and 14. It kicked off with a conference to connect the growing network of humanities leaders from around the country and help them communicate the value of the humanities to members of congress. The day following the conference, attendees had the opportunity to meet with their state legislators to communicate why keeping funding is imperative. Ching and Bailey met with Iowa Rep. David Young and Sen. Joni Ernst, among others.

“The humanities show us how to engage with the place we live and the people we encounter,” Ching said. “And in order to maintain a sense of connection to these places, the humanities structure a way of engaging.”

“It’s about people understanding themselves and how they fit into a larger system,” Bailey added. “Just because someone isn’t an expert on a certain issue doesn’t mean they can’t reach out to their politician and tell them about what they gained from a recent experience.”

Keep the conversation going

The key to advocating effectively is to keep it personal, Ching and Bailey said. Stories about how a public art piece or a lecture series at a town library or an art camp for kids has affected a life is what makes the biggest impact on a legislator’s decision on where to cut spending.

“It can be hard for people to see that these opportunities might not always be here,” Ching said. “Everybody really does want to have access to stories and culture. As faculty at Iowa State, we are involved, but it’s less of an academic focus. The real value lies in the letters and stories of the people who take advantage of these opportunities everyday.”

If you would like to share your story about how your life is positively impacted by the arts and humanities, visit the National Humanities Alliance’s Humanities Action Center website and add your voice.