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NEH awards $39m in grants in last round of funding for 2017

The agency, which was targeted for elimination by the Trump administration, supports culture and history projects across the US

by Helen Stoilas  |  3 August 2017
NEH awards $39m in grants in last round of funding for 2017
An exhibition of Georgia O’Keeffe's paintings made in Hawaii is among the bumper crop of projects to receive an NEH grant this year
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), which the Trump administration previously targeted for elimination, announced its final round of grants for this fiscal year. Among the 245 projects around the country to receive a combined $39.3m in federal funding are an exhibition of commercial art made by Georgia O’Keeffe for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company in the late 1930s and a series of studies at that explore the use of aerial thermal imaging on archaeological sites.

“NEH grants ensure that Americans around the country have the opportunity to engage with our shared cultural heritage,” said the agency’s acting chairman Jon Parrish Peede in a statement. “From traveling exhibitions and teacher workshops to efforts to preserve local history, these projects demonstrate the power of the humanities to build connections, stimulate discovery, and contribute to vibrant communities.” The peer-reviewed grants are in addition to $46.1m in annual operating support that the NEH gives to state and local humanities councils.

Because of their size, these grants often make up a large part of the fundraising totals institutions need to realise major exhibitions. “Recently, the NEH granted substantial funding [$400,000] to the Fine Arts Museums for our upcoming exhibition Teotihuacan: City of Water, City of Fire,” Helena Nordstrom, a spokeswoman for the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, told us. “This funding is a vital portion of the budget for this important project that will bring new scholarship about Teotihuacan to the US public.” Exhibitions that received sizeable grants from the NEH in this latest round of funding include Georgia O’Keeffe: Visions of Hawai’i coming to New York Botanical Garden next May ($250,000), Striking Iron: The Art of African Blacksmiths at the Fowler Museum at UCLA opening next spring ($250,000) and A Spectacle in Motion: The Grand Panorama of a Whaling Voyage ‘Round the World, based on a 19th-century panorama painting—the longest in the US—at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, which opens next year ($40,000).

The grants also support important cultural scholarship and research at universities and institutions. Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire got $324,930 to examine aerial thermography, a non-destructive method of gathering photography and data on archaeological sites, in a series of six case studies in the US and internationally. The University of Massachusetts, Amherst was awarded $216,849 for the four-week institute that would “explore concepts of artistic freedom under a Modern socialist regime the film, music, and visual arts of East Germany”. And Cornell University in Ithaca, New York received $74,994 for its ongoing research project that identifies and catalogues watermarks in Rembrandt’s etchings.

As well as funding exhibitions, the grants can also help museums do some much-needed practical work on infrastructure. The Amon Carter Museum of Western Art in Fort Worth, Texas for example received $300,000 to improve the storage for its 45,000-piece photography collection and create new space “as needed to allow for projected collection growth”. The Denver Museum of Nature & Science was also awarded $300,000 to move its 72,000-strong largely North America archaeology collection into its new display centre. And the Philbrook Museum of Art, in Tulsa Oklahoma has received $50,000 to plan a renovation that would “address significant environmental factors—in particular, an aging heating, ventilation, and air-conditioning system—that pose a threat to the Philbrook Museum’s comprehensive fine-art collection”.

The National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Institute of Museum and Library Services and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting were among 19 independent agencies that faced the axe in Trump's first federal budget proposal. However, a spending bill passed by Congress in May assured their survival through the 2017 fiscal year, and in July, the House Appropriations Committee approved funding for 2018. This includes $145m each for the NEH and the NEA, $231 million for the (IMLS) and $445 million for public television—in line with recent years' budgets.

A full list of the NEH grants can be found here.

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