By John K. Roth and Amanda Jackson Mott
Just months after the Carlton Complex Fire, Methow Valley residents gathered at The Merc Playhouse in Twisp for an unusual event: a play based on local people’s experiences during the wildfires. The play was a chance for the community to share stories, delve deeper into the issues, and build a shared history of the experience.
During the post-play discussion, a Twisp resident summed the play up this way: “This is just like the Methow — taking this fire and turning it into art.”
More recently, the Washington state Poet Laureate, Spokane’s Tod Marshall, taught hundreds of children poetry in a Methow Arts’ Education Program and read his works during an evening reading last September in the Methow Valley. After meeting Methow residents through the readings and workshops he led, Marshall was enthralled. “The Methow is a wonderful place where enthusiasm for the arts is reflected in an enthusiasm for community and a high rate of participation in arts activities,” he said. “I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that they have such wonderful support in the Methow Valley for the arts.”
Similarly poignant and compelling examples of the positive impact of cultural programs can be found throughout our community, our state and our country. Many of these opportunities are made possible by funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA). Yet President Trump has proposed elimination of these agencies and other important cultural programs such as the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, which supports PBS and NPR. That plan is shortsighted and ill-conceived.
The NEA and NEH are present in and a very vital part of the nation’s cultural and educational life. Their impact in Washington state and the Methow Valley in particular is significant. Cultural programs and the quality of life they provide help businesses attract talent, help a region attract employers with higher-paying jobs, and drive tourism. Cultural programs attract visitors who, in turn, spend additional money on lodging, restaurants and shopping. Humanities Washington, our state’s NEH affiliate, and ArtsWA, its NEA affiliate, served over 43,000 people in 2016 in the Methow Valley, Okanogan County, Wenatchee and Leavenworth areas. These programs were created by people in our state, for people in our state and local communities.
Throughout the Methow Valley, cultural institutions like the Twisp and Winthrop libraries, the Methow Valley Chamber Music Festival, The Merc Playhouse, and Methow Arts Alliance have benefited from NEA and NEH support. The majority of Humanities Washington’s work takes place outside of major metropolitan areas. If NEH and NEA funding is lost, rural areas will be hit the hardest.
Beyond community building, support from the NEH and NEA aids local economic life. On average in Washington state, every $1 from NEA/NEH leverages at least $4 — and in some cases up to $9 — from private sources in local communities.
The Trump administration believes we should rebuild our infrastructure, but infrastructure is more than roads and bridges. Libraries, schools, theaters, and museums — and the performances and discussions that take place within them — sustain and nurture communities in ways that roads and bridges alone can never do. Cutting the NEA and NEH would slightly reduce the federal budget but immensely harm the quality of our local and national life.
If you believe in the importance of the arts and humanities, we urge you to contact Congressman Dan Newhouse and Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell to say so. More about what you can do to advocate can be found at: humanities.org/advocate, arts.wa.gov, and artsactionfund.org.
John K. Roth, a Winthrop resident, is a former trustee of Humanities Washington and the past board chair of the Federation of State Humanities Councils. Amanda Jackson Mott is vice chair of the Washington State Arts Commission and executive director of the Methow Arts Alliance.