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This weekend, I took the time to walk around Portland, visit with neighbors, and speak with people in our community about the future of the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museum and Library Services. It seems that everyone, no matter his or her lifestyle, industry, or background, has thoughts about these programs, and as I listened, I felt compelled to write you today.
As the director of a museum, I understand the challenge of creating a working budget. However, the question I keep coming back to is simple: is the defunding of our cultural institutions such as the NEA, the NEH, IMLS, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting a necessary sacrifice? The answer is no.
More important, what precedent are we setting as a people and as a nation if we no longer value programs that strengthen our culture? This goes beyond a debate about the role of the arts. This is a conversation about who we are, as friends, as neighbors, as communities, as Americans, and as citizens of the world. This is a discussion about the contributions of those who came before us and the potential of those who will come after us.
In yesterday's Portland Press Herald, I wrote a guest column advocating for support for our cultural institutions. In doing so, I hoped to publicly connect endowments and agencies such as the NEA, NEH, and IMLS to the local development they spur and the economic reverberations they have throughout our communities.
I understand that as with any discussion on spending and budgets, it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. However, supporting the arts and humanities demonstrates the pride we have in the shared heritage that so many of us believe makes our country great.
We cannot be great without them.
Mark Bessire has been Judy and Leonard Lauder Director of the Portland Museum of Art since 2009. Before joining the PMA, Mark was Director of the Bates College Museum of Art in Lewiston, Maine, from 2003 to 2009, and Director of the Institute of Contemporary Art at the Maine College of Art in Portland, Maine, from 1998 to 2003. He was a Helena Rubinstein Fellow at the Whitney Museum of Art and a Fulbright Fellow in Tanzania, and holds an M.B.A. from Columbia University, an M.A. in art history from Hunter College, and a B.A. from New York University.