Skip to content

Arts and Humanities: Patriotism in Action

3/29/2017 12:00:00 AM


Arts and Humanities: Patriotism in Action

  • Cameron Kitchin, Louis and Louise Dieterle Nippert Director, Cincinnati Art Museum
  • Raphaela Platow, Alice and Harris Weston Director, Contemporary Arts Center
  • Deborah Emont Scott, Louise Taft Semple President/CEO, Taft Museum of Art

In 1940, a proud nation at war looked to protect its most precious heritage. Winston Churchill was entreated by Kenneth Clark, Director of the British National Gallery, to ship their country’s archives of art to Canada for safekeeping. The prime minister responded, “No—bury them in caves and cellars. None must go. We are going to beat them.”

Surely delivered under immense duress, the clarity of Churchill’s statement today rings with patriotism. Following the war, America’s greatest generation assumed the mantle of world leadership and the arts and humanities joined our highest values of American patriotism.

Formed in strategic stages between 1956 and 1976, the nation’s three federal agencies for the arts and humanities are born from American pride and ambition. The early efforts to create the national endowments were boldly championed by President Dwight Eisenhower and later bolstered by President Richard Nixon.

Infused with notions of freedom, expression, debate, protest and power of the individual citizen, our extraordinary American era of creative flourish is a centerpiece of all our lives. Artists, writers, filmmakers, musicians, designers, engineers and architects are our neighbors, our daughters, our sons and our greatest influencers and societal connectors.

We, as stewards of Cincinnati’s art museums, now call upon our federal, state and local elected leaders to double down on our defining strengths. Increase our investment in the arts, give greater incentive for charitable giving, spark innovation and make our country safer for our children’s future.

Smart governance looks at public, private and nonprofit outcomes connected to investments and sees that our efficient and catalytic arts and humanities agencies make entire creative industries possible from federal pennies per citizen.

We must beat swords into ploughshares to lead the world’s economies, educational systems, civic freedoms and social justices. In a global time of violently clashing ideologies and power balances, America wins by leading from the high ground. To do any other is to concede to those who seek our position.

Cincinnati’s universities, concert halls, museums, schools, and design centers are patriotism in action: they define who we are as a people and a nation. The freedoms upon which they stand are what we as Americans rise up against all invaders to defend. As George Washington said, “To encourage literature and the arts is a duty which every good citizen owes to his country.”

We ask Cincinnatians to cast aside the notion of the NEA, NEH and IMLS as simple political fodder and consider the 1965 call of President Lyndon Johnson, “Art is a nation’s most precious heritage. For it is in our works of art that we reveal to ourselves, and to others, the inner vision which guides us as a nation. And where there is no vision, the people perish.”