President Trump has proposed to eliminate the National Endowment for the Humanities. If this occurs, it could be the end of the rapid growth of Chester’s Cultural Corridor.
How so, you ask.
The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) brought $25,762,132 in federal dollars to Pennsylvania in the last five years, including funds for the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC). In 2015, the PHC found that an arts and culture movement which included a theater, art gallery, artists’ warehouse, a spoken-word café, and a jazz space was happening in Chester’s downtown and needed to be supported. The PHC swooped in and joined forces with the city of Chester, Widener University, business owners, and a team of Chester residents and began to share their resources to help grow the Chester Cultural Corridor – the stretch of Avenue of the States from City Hall to 9th street.
That’s where ‘Chester Made’ was born. This humanities-based initiative is designed to recognize and promote arts and culture in Chester to harness their power as a force for community revitalization.
Have you been on the 500 block of Ave. of the States in the past 24 months to see the revitalization?
First, Linda Braceland opened an art gallery. Then ‘Open Mikes’ opened creating a performance space for spoken word and other live entertainment. Then ‘Butcher Rehab’ opened, which is really a work space for a couple furniture builders, but their huge window wall displays the eclectic works of art they create with wood, metal, and anything else they can get their hand on.
Then there’s the MJ Freed furniture store turned 250 seat theater. Next to that is Abstract Space, a smaller space adorning ever changing art work and home to paint parties, meetings, and live music. On the top floor is a huge open space identified as a dance studio. Next door is the newest addition just opened last week which I call the community wood shop. They call it the Exploration Zone. Across the street is another new gallery. Let’s not forget a new night club, furniture restoration store, and clothing store that offers screen printing, embroidery, and other custom art on fabric. Finally, there’s a member’s only cigar bar that may not be part of the arts movement, but it’s a work of art in & of itself.
Often overlooked, Andre’s Café Acoustique has been hosting jazz concerts for 10 years on the corner of 5th and Edgmont. Although not on Ave of the States, they have been in downtown Chester supporting live music the longest.
On any given day or night, the once desolate Ave of the States is bustling with children painting, dancing, performing, or enjoying a show, and adults are taking in a concert, movie, dancing, eating or enjoying the art.
Who would have thought that an all day outdoor fashion show would take place in the middle of Ave of the States? But it did this summer.
In 2016 PHC received two major grants to move Chester Made into its next phase. The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) received a $287,500 project grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and has been approved for a $45,000 Our Town grant from the National Endowment for the Arts and will use the money to support a Creative Exploration Zone (CEZ) in the City of Chester’s Historic Arts and Culture District. The zone will give community members the chance to engage with one another, learn more about the city’s cultural assets and history, and continue to rebuild their downtown and change perceptions about Chester.
The Mayor of Chester has committed the city’s support of the Chester Cultural Corridor but we all know the city budget has no fluff to support projects that require investment. That’s why the elimination of The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities would be so devastating to the continued revitalization efforts in downtown Chester.
President Trump doesn’t have the power to eliminate these programs. He can only recommend to the U.S. Congress what his priorities are. Only Congress can approve a budget.
So, here are your marching orders:
-Call your elected officials in their Washington D.C. or local congressional offices, or both, and tell them how important humanities programs are to you and your community. It’s important to tell your story. Be specific in describing how a humanities program transformed, inspired, or enlightened you, and be sure to thank the officials for the funding that made that program possible.
-Attend a member of Congress’s town hall or other open meeting.
-Email the member if you are unable to place a call or attend a meeting.
-Write a letter to the editor of your local newspapers and magazines.
-Create a buzz on social media. Follow your elected officials, and tell them why humanities programming is important. Tag PHC on Facebook and Twitter.
-Provide PHC with stories, testimonials, recent press, and other materials that demonstrate the impact of the humanities in your community.
Here Are the Dates and Events to Watch?
1) By April 28, Congress must pass a bill to keep the federal government operating through September 30, the end of the fiscal year. This action will tell us what the funding levels for the cultural agencies will be for the remainder of FY 2017.
2) The President’s budget, which will likely be sent to Congress in early May, will provide our first reliable look at the Trump administration’s stance on NEH. Yesterday, we received an early indication of the budget outline which has created this concern.
3) Other signals of administration and congressional intent could occur at any time through statements issued, budget resolution language (which is advisory, not binding), or other actions.