Federal funding for the humanities is growing despite repeated budget proposals from President Donald Trump that suggest closing down national endowments for the arts and humanities — but haven't. Newly endowed grant projects include $750,000 in so-called challenge funding to add an exhibition building and create a downtown campus for the Santa Fe-based museum devoted to the life and works of American modernist painter Georgia O'Keeffe. Activating the grant will require new matching private and local government contributions of at least $3 million to the Georgia O'Keeffe Museum.
“Generous donors love to see their names on the amphitheaters and exhibition halls, and the government can be the one that puts in the HVAC system, the fire-suppression system — the essential but non-exciting elements,” National Endowment for the Humanities Chairman Jon Parrish Peede said.
Peede, a former literary magazine editor who served stints at the National Endowment for the Arts under presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, announced the new round of 188 humanities grants at a news conference in Santa Fe, flanked by O'Keeffe's iconic painted images of flowers, an adobe church spire and high-desert land and sky.
The National Endowment for the Humanities has begun aligning grant spending with topics of American history and civics that tie into the upcoming 250th anniversary of U.S. independence. Peede said that hasn't limited funding for projects that highlight pre-Columbian, indigenous civilization.
Beyond infrastructure, the grants support new technologies in the humanities, including plans for an augmented reality app that recreates the features of a 13th century city, commemorated today at Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site in Illinois.
About half of the new grant spending tally is earmarked for construction projects that expand the capacity of museums, historic sites, libraries, colleges and universities. Recipients run the gamut from the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming, to the St. Louis Holocaust Museum and Learning Center.
A digital anthology of popular pre-Civil War hymns inspired by European composers will be created under fellowship awards to college and university faculty. Local humanities councils in every state and additional U.S. territories will disburse an additional $48 million in federal money.
In Santa Fe, a hub for collectors and creators of Native American art with museums that explore worldwide cultural traditions, the O'Keeffe museum attracts an outsized annual audience of about 200,000 visitors to a relatively small exhibition space — roughly the size of a basketball court.
That keeps much of the museum's growing collection of O'Keeffe works, writings and artifacts from her life cooped up in archives and storage, museum Director Cody Hartley said. He envisions a campus that brings together several downtown museum properties already within a two-block radius.
“We're still defining that vision. But we're excited about programs like teacher education and summer school programs," he said. “The beauty of this is that with more space we can tell the story of O'Keeffe's life much more thoroughly, much more adequately using all of our collections.”