Shortly after returning from Washington (more on that in my previous blog post), NJCH resumed its work advocating for the humanities council within the state, preparing to testify at budget hearings in Trenton and Carneys Point and meeting with local lawmakers.
While we were in Washington we were fighting to save something, but in New Jersey we have been fighting to resurrect something that has disappeared. NJCH was supported by the state government of New Jersey for 25 years, leading up to 2014, when, under Governor Christie, funding for the Council was eliminated. We are now meeting with individual lawmakers to try to get that funding back.
On March 27 and 28, we participated in public budget hearings with representatives from two of our grant recipient organizations — Sam Stephens from the William Trent House and Diane Felcyn from Perkins Center for the Arts. Sam and Diane got up in front of the Assembly Budget and Appropriations Committee (in Trenton) and the Senate Budget Committee (in Carneys Point) and told their stories about how NJCH supports institutions like Trent House with funding and expertise as they grapple with legacies of slavery and modern-day issues surrounding race in America and about how, without the funding that NJCH provides to small nonprofit organizations, people like Diane leave the state to live and work elsewhere, thinking that their own state might be a cultural desert.
Perhaps the most telling moment came in the Assembly Budget Hearings, when Chairman Burzichelli asked us “what did you do to fall out of favor in 2013?” The answer is that we didn’t fall out of favor; in principle, everyone is in favor of literature and history and culture. The problem is that in practice, they forget that these things aren’t extraneous and dispensable when times get tough—the humanities, and the conversations and mutual understanding that they promote, are at the core of a decent, equitable, peaceful, and rewarding society.
But even though we didn’t fall out of favor, we did fall out of the budget, and now it is important to remind our lawmakers of the work we do in their communities, both so that they fund that work going forward and so that they see the value of the humanities and of other New Jersey institutions that support humanities work. New Jersey is rich in humanities endeavors, and we should take pride in them and do all we can to perpetuate their successes.