Mythical creatures that have the head of one animal, body of another, and tail of a third are called chimeras. Over the past three months, I have come to recognize that NJCH is just such a mythical creature: we are an independent 501c3, have a special relationship to the state of New Jersey (we serve a statewide mission and the Governor appoints five of our Board members), and also have a special relationship to the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), as one of 56 nationwide Councils established by the NEH in the early 1970s to bring federal support for the public humanities to local communities.
While definitionally we are quite complex, the realities of our operational budget are actually much simpler: We receive the overwhelming majority of our budget in monthly installments from the NEH. Since 2013, the last year NJCH received funding from the State of New Jersey, the only other NJCH funding has come from individual donations and a handful of foundations. These non-federal funds make-up less than 10% of our overall budget. So, when the federal government shut down in December, just days after we had submitted our funds request, we were left in a difficult position. The shutdown meant our funding couldn’t be released. Our position was not, of course, as difficult as those of the many workers who were furloughed, or made to work without pay. We managed quietly through, paying out as little as possible in order to continue to support staff salaries with our operating reserves. Now that the government is up and running again, it seems a good moment to let our friends know that we were on the brink of having to temporarily halt our statewide programming — both grants and PSP programs.
Funding for the humanities will always be vulnerable and will always be relatively scarce. Although the humanities bring a sense of interconnectedness, history, beauty, and culture to our communities, they will always and necessarily take a back seat to security, infrastructure, tax collection, and other roles that the government plays. As a result, NJCH regards diversifying our funding sources — becoming more of a chimera with respect to funding — as a priority in the coming years. We all lose something if the National Archives and the Smithsonian shut their doors, and New Jersey’s residents lose a very great deal if the many excellent public humanities projects taking place across the state lose valuable funding support.
We will keep you updated on our funding situation as it relates to the federal government, and we thank you all for your ongoing support for NJCH, both with lawmakers and within your own communities!