Arts, humanities face funding cuts

With budget cuts on the table for national endowments to the arts and humanities, scholars in the field are turning to alternate sources of support for college programs and research.

The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities together face $22 million in budget cuts in President Barack Obama’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2012. The potential 13 percent drop in each endowment has encouraged arts and humanities scholars at the University to seek funding from private sources.

Geralyn Schulz, associate dean for research in the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences, said a cut in national funding could limit the work of faculty and students.

“A number of our centers and institutes are supported in part by funding from the NEH and this could be in danger given the potential cuts to the budget that are currently being discussed,” Schulz said. “Several faculty have also had fellowships from the NEH and if funding is cut, the number of such fellowships would likely be affected, thus reducing the availability of such fellowships.”

GW received $41,835 in funding from the NEA and $92,000 from the NEH in fiscal year 2010 to support research, according to data from each organization. In the last 5 years, GW has received an average of about $26,000 from the NEA and $208,000 from the NEH.

“Any decrease in the NEH grants is going to have an immediate impact on what is possible for humanities scholars to do as far as their humanities research goes,” said Jeffrey Cohen, a professor of English and director of the Medieval and Early Modern Studies Institute.

Cohen said that funding for research in the humanities is different from science funding in the way faculty members garner financial support.

“Where science funding usually funds something at the University itself and can bring money to the University, humanities funding tends to be something that a university gives to the humanities. It creates a space for them where collaborative research can happen in order for scholars to then go out and get funding for their own projects,” he said.

When humanities funding of any kind gets cut, Cohen said scholars have to compete for increasingly scarce resources, often through private channels. Cohen said private sources like the American Council of Learned Societies are receiving a record number of grant applications because of the federal funding shortfall.

“The net result of it is that lots of very, very good projects wind up not getting the funding that they deserve,” he said.

Cohen added that when it comes to humanities, GW has a lot to be proud of.

The CCAS has partnerships with several D.C. arts and humanities entities, such as the Folger Shakespeare Library, the Smithsonian Institution, the Shakespeare Theatre Company and most recently the Phillips Collection. The college also runs a number of world-renowned arts and humanities centers and institutes.

As a vocal supporter of the arts and humanities, University President Steven Knapp recently launched a University-wide arts initiative to propel GW to national prominence in the arts.

After a faculty review process assessing the strengths and weaknesses of GW’s arts programs, an external committee of experts will visit campus to provide input.

“The arts and humanities are an essential part of the liberal arts, which are integral to a GW education,” Schulz said.

Cohen said the proposed budget cuts represent a value struggle more than a dollar-and-cents struggle.

“I think that when humanities funding is on the line, it really comes down to what our values are as a society,” Cohen said. “And if we’re willing to rally to fund the humanities and rescue the humanities from the budget cuts, I think what we’re saying is we value the kind of inquiry, thinking and research that humanities gives us.”

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