Humanities and the arts serve all Kentuckians

This is a display in the Smithsonian Museum’s Hometown Teams exhibit sponsored last month by the Wayland Historical Society in Floyd County and the Kentucky Humanities Council.
This is a display in the Smithsonian Museum’s Hometown Teams exhibit sponsored last month by the Wayland Historical Society in Floyd County and the Kentucky Humanities Council. Wayland Historical Society

Last week I was in Wayland in Floyd County for the opening of the Kentucky Humanities Smithsonian traveling exhibit, Hometown Teams. It was quite a treat to be in southeast Kentucky in the smallest town in America where a Smithsonian Museum display will entertain people from all over Appalachia for the next six weeks.

Mayor Jerry Fultz, who is also president of the Wayland Historical Society, and director of the Mountain Sports Hall of Fame, is a champion for the humanities and hopes the Smithsonian exhibit will inspire people to become involved in his community’s cultural life.

Kentucky Humanities is proud to bring the exhibit to Wayland this year. Next year, it might not be possible.

Why? Congress is one step closer to making Wayland’s Museum on Main Street and Kentucky’s history obsolete, and the longer we turn a blind eye, the faster our heritage and culture will fade away. Washington is poised to eliminate funding for both the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts.

While making up only a miniscule part of the annual federal budget, the impact of organizations supported by the endowments is beyond measure. How do you quantify a family literacy program that seeks to build family bonding and end the cycle of intergenerational illiteracy?

What value would you place on a child experiencing history coming to life in their classroom? What price on veterans gathering to share how their experiences shaped their lives long after their service ended?

How would you determine the impact of rural Kentucky high school students learning from a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist?

The humanities should be important to everyone. They tell us who we are, where we came from, and where we are going. For 45 years, the Kentucky Humanities Council has been Telling Kentucky’s Story, which is really the story of us all.

Over the last five years, the council has brought more than 3,100 events to the commonwealth, many of those to the Lexington area — the family literacy program at the East 7th Street Center, the Living Arts and Science Center’s Day of the Dead Festival, Abraham Lincoln in classrooms at Henry Clay High School, Daniel Boone sharing Kentucky history with Garden Springs Elementary students, and Henry Clay revealing how he became known as “the Great Compromiser” to an audience at Richmond Place, just to name a few.

The humanities is not a liberal or conservative issue, but a gateway to endless possibilities for everyone. I want all of the residents of Lexington and those across Kentucky to have the many opportunities I have enjoyed: a chance to contribute to the economic and cultural well being of my community, to become a lifelong learner, to develop an appreciation and understanding of the history and heritage of the commonwealth, and to become an engaged citizen who supports and participates in local organizations.

What can we do to preserve the funding for more humanities programs like Kentucky Chautauqua in our classrooms, Prime Time Family Reading Time at our public libraries, and Smithsonian traveling exhibits at museums throughout the commonwealth?

Contact our members of Congress and let them know that the humanities are an important part of strengthening Kentucky communities, engaging our citizens and educating our workforce. Let them know that the humanities play a vital role in the lives of the people they represent and the communities they serve.

Eliminating the endowments won’t balance the budget or reduce taxes. Funding them costs each of us less than 50 cents annually, and gives us back so much more.

The Kentucky Humanities Council has proudly served Kentucky since 1972; I hope you will support us in our efforts to continue Telling Kentucky’s Story.

Bill Goodman, executive director of the Kentucky Humanities Council, worked for Kentucky Educational Television for more than 20 years.