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Why the NEA Matters, A Letter from Poets House Executive Director Lee Briccetti

Dear Poetry Lovers,

The artistic legacy of a nation also represents its riches—riches that everyone can have. Especially in a polyglot nation like ours, the existence of the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) emphasizes the value of the individual interior life and exchange about our experiences in community.

The NEA helps to cultivate wider participation in this artistic legacy, which in turn helps us understand and value our complexities as a nation.

Let us be clear, the NEA is not solely a direct funder of arts in the U.S.

By providing a baseline of support for artists and arts institutions, it acts as an incubator of private/public partnerships, leveraging individual and private philanthropies to invest in the arts. Like the nutritive material in a huge petri dish, the NEA’s essential role is to help the arts grow far beyond the capacities of its own relatively limited budget. When I think about the role of the NEA, this is where I start…even before I consider its impact on Poets House, or before I calculate economic impacts of its direct investment in the arts, which are real, and important (i.e., jobs, traffic to restaurants, etc.).

Liquidating the NEA is all show…though a show with devastating consequences.

Because the NEA’s budget is miniscule relative to other expenditures in the national budget, its liquidation will do little to bring real relief to Americans…but its erasure will be chilling, as it declares the arts to be too complex and challenging to be supported by our government, even modestly…unlike peer nations all over the world.

Poets House is our nation’s poetry library, offering scores of low-cost programs for people of all ages, from toddlers to seniors; and providing free-class trips to thousands of students.  80,000 people cross our threshold annually. Millions more find us online or through national programs in partner libraries. Poets House generally receives about $60K for program support on a $1.5M budget. This money is not given out for free: it takes weeks to put an application together, to work on a detailed budget that requires at least a one-to-one match from other sources. This funding is truly important to our organization because the NEA is the only national funder in the field of non-profit literature. We rely on the NEA’s annual programmatic contribution and its imprimatur—with its peer panel process of review—not just for its own sake but because it continues to be a national arbiter that inculcates further buy-in by donors and investors. Since we do not have a deep endowment or university support, the loss of this funding would be truly damaging. But for younger, more fragile organizations the loss of NEA funding would be crushing.

The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) has also provided Poets House with important support, funding our initiatives in libraries across the country, such as Poetic Voices of the Muslim World. This support has demonstrated that our national community has placed value in honoring individual voices and voices gathered together—emphasizing the encouragement of listening, reading and deep thinking as necessary to a democracy.

For most of us, the value of the arts, and the generative presence of the NEA’s and NEH’s national presence and role in supporting them, remains undiminished.

Please join Poets House in voicing the importance of supporting the arts and culture of our nation. Please contact your representatives to object to the defunding of these agencies.

In solidarity,

Lee Briccetti



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