Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,
In light of the host of issues facing our country—including COVID-19, lost jobs, failing infrastructure, climate change, institutionalized racism, unjust immigration policies—it is easy to forget what sustains so many of us: the Arts and Humanities. When I wrote a letter to the previous administration in 2017, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) and National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) were being threatened with extinction. While that is no longer the case, the pandemic has highlighted how the Arts and Humanities provide a source of comfort, community, empathy, hope, and—what we so badly need right now—joy.
“…the Arts and Humanities provide a source of comfort, community, empathy, hope, and—what we so badly need right now—joy.”
The Hebrew Bible helps us appreciate the long standing importance of the Arts and Humanities, especially music and poetry. In Genesis 4:21, Jubal is named the ancestor of all who play the lyre and the pipe. Later, David—who is regarded as the legendary author of the Psalms—soothes King Saul’s terrors with the lyre (I Samuel 16:23). In these days of isolation during the pandemic, orchestras, choirs, and school bands have found ways to produce music on Zoom to comfort the world.
In the book of Exodus, after the Israelites miraculously cross the sea, the prophet Miriam and the women go out with hand drums, singing, and dancing to celebrate their liberation from Egypt (Exodus 15:20-21). In the book of Judges, Deborah, the legendary judge and prophet, leads Israel into battle and then sings of Israel’s victory ushering in a period of peace (Judges 4-5). These and other biblical citations (like 1 Samuel 18:6-7) testify to the celebrated role female performers played in ancient Israel as they elevated momentous occasions with music, song, and dance.
On Inauguration Day, we saw a young woman play this precise role. In the words of Amanda Gorman, our country’s new national treasure and National Youth Poet Laureate, please maintain the Arts and Humanities so that:
“We will not march back to what was,
but move to what shall be.
A country that is bruised but whole,
benevolent but bold,
fierce and free.”
Tammi J. Schneider
Dr. Tammi J. Schneider
Danforth Chair of Religion
Claremont Graduate University