After Harvey, who preserves our culture?

The organized arts and humanities generally don’t save lives directly during emergency situations. Yet they save our culture — our shared memory — over the long run. Here are some ways the state and national communities are responding to Harvey and where the help will be most needed.

The Rockport Center for the Arts after Hurricane Harvey. Contributed by Rockport Center for the Arts

The National Endowment for the Humanities has pledged $1 million to cultural groups hurt by Harvey.

The National Endowment for the Arts is working with the Texas Commission on the Arts to assess the situation. NEA Chairwoman Jane Chu: “As the current situation stabilizes, the NEA is prepared to direct additional funds to these state arts agencies for re-granting to affected organizations, as we have done in the past.”

The Texas Library Association and Texas State Library and Archives Commission are working to coordinate a response for the affected library community.

While some smaller arts facilities have been devastated on the coast (see image from Rockport), the massive Houston Theatre District has sustained enormous damage, as it has in previous storms (much of it was built underground not far from Buffalo Bayou).

At the Alley Theatre, the small Neuhaus Theatre and its lobby were flooded. The same spaces were severely beat up during Tropical Storm Allison in 2001.

The Wortham Theatre Center, where Houston Grand Opera and Houston Ballet perform, took water on the Brown Theatre stage and out front of the house. The basement with its costume and prop storage, however, was totally flooded.

On the other hand, the Hobby Center and Jones Hall for the Performing Arts, came off relatively unscathed, although the parking garages were inundated.

NEA, NEH, PBS on the chopping block once again

Since my first day at the newspaper 28 years ago, the National Endowment for the Arts — its sibling National Endowment for the Humanities and Corporation for Public Broadcasting — have been under fire.

The only mildly surprising thing about the new administration’s proposed federal budget, which would eliminate these agencies, is that we haven’t seen many public cases made against these entities in quite some time.

During the 1980s and ’90s, there was plenty to brawl about while a generation of self-avowedly subversive artists began to receive federal funds, especially from the NEA. We must have written hundreds of stories on the controversies.

Yet recently, all has been relatively quiet on the federal front. So it’s hard to see the rationale, especially given the amount of money that would be saved.

Here’s a snip of the New York Times story that ran in the American-Statesman today.

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Former Representative Mick Mulvaney, a spending hard-liner, was confirmed as White House budget director on Thursday. Credit Stephen Crowley/The New York Times

“The White House budget office has drafted a hit list of programs that President Trump could eliminate to trim domestic spending, including longstanding conservative targets like the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, the Legal Services Corporation, AmeriCorps and the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities.

Work on the first Trump administration budget has been delayed as the budget office awaited Senate confirmation of former Representative Mick Mulvaney, a spending hard-liner, as budget director. Now that he is in place, his office is ready to move ahead with a list of nine programs to eliminate, an opening salvo in the Trump administration’s effort to reorder the government and increase spending on defense and infrastructure.

Most of the programs cost under $500 million annually, a pittance for a government that is projected to spend about $4 trillion this year. And a few are surprising, even though most if not all have been perennial targets for conservatives. …”