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Proposed Humanities Cuts Worry Schools, Community Programs

Humanities explores the human experience — art, music, literature, history and more.

In Nevada, the National Endowment for the Humanities gives millions to colleges and community programs.

Now people who run those programs and use that money are worried because the Trump Administration has signaled it wants to cut those grants.

Christina Barr is the executive director of Nevada Humanities. She said the NEH gives her group money that it then distributes to “every corner of Nevada.”

Barr said grant money goes to everything from arts initiatives in Carson City to the Cowboy Poetry Gathering in Elko to the Neon Museum in Las Vegas.

“We like to think that we’re omnipresent that we touch most of the cultural programming throughout our state,” she said.

One program that received NEH money through Nevada Humanities is Linking Latin America at the College of Southern Nevada. Valerie Hecht spearheaded the project. She is a professor of international languages at CSN.

Hecht said the money went to help faculty development of curriculum related to Latin American Studies.

“The funding has definitely benefitted faculty and that will trickle down to the students as well,” she said.

Another project funded by NEH grants is a virtual humanities center through Great Basin College. Scott Gavorsky is a history instructor at Great Basin College and is on the board of Nevada Humanities.

Through the virtual humanities center, Gavorsky explained, people can access lectures on several different topics, instead of going to Reno or Las Vegas to hear the speaker.

The center is also working on a language revitalization program for Nevada’s Shoshone tribes. The program is helping connect dozens of different Shoshone communities virtually, allowing them to preserve their language.

Gavorsky said that the humanities provides some of the so-called “soft skills” that employers are looking for.

“We at Great Basin offer a range of very highly respected technical programs, but we’re hearing from corporate sponsors, who have contributed to us, is actually that these so-called 'soft skills' that the humanities bring — broader thinking about the past, the ability to analyze outside a technical issue and look at the broader structures of society that these issues might be embedded in — those are really valuable to them,” he said.

Hecht agreed. She said courses like the ones developed by Linking Latin America provide a “cultural competency” and expand a student’s ability to understand the problems faced by other cultures.

Peter Goin is an art professor at the University of Nevada, Reno, and he is working on a project funded by NEH that collects old photographs and digitizes them.

“What we proposed was to develop what we’ve titled the 'North Lake Tahoe Digitization Day.' That is a project that invites community members to bring in historical visual materials and we digitize those for free and we encourage the community members to value their family histories through the visual materials that they own,” he explained.

He said getting private funding for a project like this one would be very difficult, and he said people support the idea of the government funding projects like his.

“Locally, people value it,” Goin said. “They frankly expect this to be funded. They believe the government should be involved in this kind of funding.”

He also pointed out that the amount of money that goes to the National Endowment for the Humanities is very small, compared with the rest of the federal budget.

“Cutting it doesn’t solve anything,” he said. “It doesn’t build any wall. It really doesn’t address any other issues. It’s a drop in the federal deficit, so why not fund it?”

Barr agreed, pointing out that the budget for the NEH and the National Endowment for the Arts is just .003 percent of the federal budget.

“The value of the humanities is so great that cutting these programs will actually result in detrimental ripple effect around our nation,” she said.

Plus, Barr said federal funding for a program or project helps that project leverage more private donations.

Barr said Nevada Humanities is reaching out to the state’s delegation in Washington, D.C. to speak to them about the importance of keeping the funding and it is asking the public to talk to their representatives and senators about the issue. 

(Editor's Note: KNPR's State of Nevada receives funding from Nevada Humanities)

Christina Barr, executive director, Nevada Humanities; Scott Gavorsky, history instructor, Great Basin College; Peter Goin, art professor, University of Nevada, Reno; Valerie Hecht, professor of international languages, College of Southern Nevada

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Kristy Totten is a producer at KNPR's State of Nevada. Previously she was a staff writer at Las Vegas Weekly, and has covered technology, education and economic development for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. She's a graduate of the Missouri School of Journalism.