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  • By Mar-Vic Cagurangan

Assault on the arts and humanities

Local artists, authors, scholars and cultural practitioners sat at the grant writing workshop conducted on Feb. 25 by the Humanities Guahan in its Hagatna office, hoping to bag some of the available funds to defray the cost of their projects.

Some thousands of dollars from the National Endowment for the Humanities are available for the 2017 grant cycle to fund eligible projects including films, research, publications and art exhibitions. For grant seekers, tapping into that coffer must be done now or never. The next cycle may be in jeopardy.

In the latest of a series of threats from the Trump administration, the White House is reportedly eyeing the full elimination of funds the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities from the 2018 federal budget. Not exactly surprising though. Funding for the arts and humanities has long been in the cross hairs of conservative critics, who dismiss such disciplines as a waste of resources --- notwithstanding the fact that the combined budgets of the NEH and NEA account for just over .002 percent of federal discretionary spending.

"Obviously it's a huge concern for all state humanities councils," said Kimberlee Kihleng, executive director of the Humanities Guahan, one of the 56 nonprofit humanities agencies in the U.S. that rely on NEH for their programs and operations.

Run by a five-member staff and governed by five volunteer -members of the board of directors, the Humanities Guahan receives an annual budget of $350,000 from NEH. In recent years, the council has awarded several community grants to grassroots organizations and carried out more than a dozen projects that included literacy programs, history and environment-themed films, political education, cultural culinary history and traveling exhibits among others.

"Most of the funds that we receive from NEH go to the actual programs," Kihleng said. Currently, the Humanities Guahan is able to leverage its core funding from NEH, with supplemental contributions from other sources such as the Office of Insular Affairs.

"Fiscal conservatives often malign the arts and humanities as a luxury. "We don?t always see the relationship between humanities and economics," Kihleng said, debunking what she sees as a misguided notion. "Through the programs that we do, such as family literacy, we are building skills for members of our community. They are able to go out and get employed. It stimulates the economy and provides jobs. We also have community projects such as the exhibitions; we train volunteers to man those exhibitions and we give them stipends. So we are contributing economically to the community as well."

Analyzing the dollar value of the arts and culture economy in 2013, the Bureau of Economic Analysis reported that arts and cultural production contributed more than $704 billion to the U.S. economy, accounting for 4.2 percent of the nation's GDP. The amount was greater than the contributions of the construction ($586.7 billion), transportation and, warehousing ($464.1 billion) industries, BEA said.

Launching on an online petition on, the Humanities Guahan has joined its counterparts across the nation the fight to keep the NEA and NEH intact.

"Arts and humanities strengthen our communities," Kihleng said. "It speaks of who we are as people, who we are as a nation, our history and our culture, our values. We discuss present them, then discuss them and critically think about them through our humanities programs. Cutting those programs is really going to affect the quality of American society and what we want to be as a country."

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