Today on the Hill: NEH and Disaster Preparedness

For the first time since 2015, the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies requested public witness testimonies on the impact of NEH and NEA funding. We were pleased to see this request for testimony and also to advance Jessica Unger, emergency programs coordinator at the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation, as a public witness to testify on behalf of the National Endowment for the Humanities. She was accepted, and this morning had the opportunity to testify on the many ways the NEH has supported efforts to save cultural heritage in the face of disaster.

Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), chairwoman of the subcommittee, began the proceedings by noting how pleased she was to bring back the tradition of public witness testimonies on non-tribal programs. The last time a similar testimony was invited was in 2015. Chairwoman McCollum was joined by Ranking Member David Joyce (R-OH), and other members of the subcommittee: Rep. Chellie Pingree (D-ME), Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Rep. Christ Stewart (R-UT), Rep. Betty Watson Coleman (D-NJ), and Rep. Mark Amodei (R-NV). Along with testimony on the NEH, the morning was spent hearing testimony on the public value of the National Endowment for the Arts, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the National Park Service. Tribal programs funded under the Interior bill will be the focus of a separate hearing.

Unger’s testimony began with an evocative picture of what is to be lost in the face of natural disaster: “Firearms from the Civil War, covered in mud, sat on the banks of the Mississippi Gulf Coast in the days after Hurricane Katrina. Costumes, props, and programs from the famed Martha Graham Dance Company floated in their storm-surge-inundated storage room following Hurricane Sandy. Swirls of mold covered the walls—from floor to ceiling—of a Puerto Rican library in the weeks after Hurricane Maria.”

She then went on to explain the crucial work the Foundation for Advancement in Conservation is doing—with the support of the NEH—to ensure that conservators and other cultural heritage professionals are prepared to respond to disasters. The NEH has funded crucial research on preservation techniques that have informed response protocols and has also supported National Heritage Responders to be deployed in the immediate aftermath of disasters to aid local cultural heritage professionals. Finally, the NEH supports the Foundation’s Alliance for Response program, which brings together collections professionals with emergency managers and first responders on the local level to collaborate on protocol and response.

We were pleased to facilitate Unger’s testimony, which we saw as an important opportunity to raise the visibility of the crucial work that the NEH does to prepare for and respond to disasters. And we were particularly pleased to raise the visibility with this particular audience: the members of the House most involved in funding decisions for the NEH.


Photo Credit:

Thumbnail image: Image courtesy of FAIC.

Read more: advocacy preservation museums