Funding for Public Humanities Is Good for Economy, Democracy, Community

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At a time when the world is facing the threat of a global pandemic and very real immediate needs, many Montanans may wonder why Congress would support public humanities outreach—to the tune of $300 million—through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.. The case for supporting public humanities in Montana and the United States is threefold: it is fiscally responsible, humanist study promotes civic engagement, and public humanities stimulate community building.

The first—and most tangible—benefit of public humanities is their economic impact. The arts and culture are an $878 billion economic industry, accounting for 4.5% of the nation’s GDP. Additionally, five million jobs are created by humanities-focused institutions annually, and they represent a $29.7 billion trade surplus. The arts and humanities are a vital piece of the nation’s economy and keeping these organizations afloat is crucial to slowing economic decline.

Secondly, humanist studies and conversations are the core of American democracy. A democracy succeeds through the strength of its constituents and is responsible for the education of its citizens. A strong, responsive government relies on civic engagement, and civic engagement relies on the examination of the human condition. The humanities, regardless of discipline, promote curiosity, initiative, and problem solving, all of which translate to a more rounded society that is well-equipped to handle the constant tension of continuity and change that is ingrained in the human experience. As the nation transitions to working from home, isolating themselves from loved ones, or continuing their essential labor—carrying on amid dramatic change—critical analysis of the circumstances and the exploration of new ideas is imperative. Public humanities professionals engage communities in reflecting on diverse cultures, history, and heritage and encourage the implementation of that knowledge. The humanities expand the possibilities for the future.

Lastly, explorations into humanity promote community interaction and connectivity. The nation is facing isolation, and cultural institutions are subverting traditional interaction to bring communities together digitally to provide the social interaction that is proven to improve mental and physical health. Humanist study is the heart of the American experiment in liberty and is the driving force toward equality and communion. A collective education in the humanities is vital to navigating the forces of dehumanization, interpreting diverse points of view, and revealing a new understanding of personal relationships. The humanities inspire faith in the potential of humankind.

The humanities deal with that which is fundamentally human, the attributes which distinguish human beings from all other natural beings: self-consciousness, language, reason, creativity, values, aspirations, and the products of all of these. Perhaps most importantly, though, the humanities provide a bridge between people, allowing strangers to access the language of one’s own mind, conveying experiences, interpretations, and points of view. The language of the humanities can provide an avenue for empathy and community as the nation grapples with the disproportionate effects of COVID-19.

By Ryan McCarty, development intern for Humanities Montana