Humanities organizations faced enormous challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Museums and historical societies closed their doors, losing ticket and gift shop sales. Libraries sought to provide remote access to their services. Colleges and universities rapidly shifted to online teaching. Virtually all humanities organizations faced loss of revenue even while adapting to serve their communities in new and innovative ways.
Dollars dedicated to supporting humanities organizations through the CARES Act.
Through the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), the CARES Act provided $75 million specifically for humanities organizations. With these funds, the NEH awarded economic stabilization grants to 317 humanities organizations, supporting thousands of jobs. Additionally, with the $30 million immediately distributed to them, the NEH’s partners at the state and jurisdictional humanities councils reached 4,175 organizations in the United States through small grants programs. NEH CARES grants offered essential support for many organizations—but they were not able to meet even the initial demand for support and there is still great need. The NEH was only able to fund 14 percent of the applications it received for CARES grants, while on average the state councils were only able to fund 38 percent.
Through its economic stabilization grants program, the NEH provided substantial grants to humanities organizations that made it possible to retain staff whose positions would have been otherwise eliminated. At the same time, the NEH supported projects that created new programs, shifted organizations’ work online, and supported communities.
NEH CARES grants offered essential support to cultural organizations in small, rural communities throughout the United States. In Homer, Alaska, the Pratt Museum used an NEH CARES grant to offer outdoor, physically-distanced tours, develop a 12-part radio series, and reach community members through online conversation programs. In Red Cloud, Nebraska, the Willa Cather Foundation moved its 2020 spring conference online, reaching new audiences, and it developed a virtual tour of its sites and a digital collections gallery. And on Maine’s Monhegan Island, the Monhegan Museum developed a digital exhibition, “World War II: On Island and Abroad.” Each of these organizations were able to maintain multiple staff positions thereby supporting their local, rural economies in this time of crisis.
The NEH was only able to fund a small percentage—14%—of the applications it received.
These grants also supported educational institutions helping them pivot to offer online education and programming in a time of economic uncertainty. In Crawfordsville, Indiana, Wabash College used NEH funding to create courses for at-risk students. In Northfield, Minnesota, a grant helped St. Olaf College retain library and museum staff to create new First-Year Experience programs for incoming freshmen.
NEH CARES grants supported new programs for the public, helping communities come together virtually. The Walter Anderson Museum in Ocean Springs, Mississippi, offered online programs illuminating Southern history and culture. 95% of participants said they felt “a sense of connection between [their] experiences and/or heritage and those explored in this program.” And the Kodiak Historical Society in Kodiak, Alaska, held virtual conversations about the town’s history and present.
The American Alliance of Museums estimates that a third of the museums in the U.S. will face closure as a result of the pandemic.
Many grants supported indigenous organizations and people, helping ensure that powerful cultural revitalization programs and other services were able to continue through the difficult year. In Hilo, Hawai’i, Aha Punana Leo received funding to support Native Hawaiian teaching programs and create educational, cultural, and native language resources. The California Indian Museum and Cultural Center in Santa Rosa received funding to adapt its K-12 public programs for a virtual environment. And in Anadarko, Oklahoma, the Delaware Nation received funding for new computers and to support the salary of a tribal librarian, expanding the community’s computer and internet access.
Organizations supported by the state and jurisdictional humanities councils through the CARES Act.
Smaller grants provided by the state and jurisdictional humanities councils through the CARES act also had significant impacts. These grants were awarded quickly to thousands of organizations. They provided essential operating support for essentials like staff salaries and building costs. And for the many humanities organizations that are volunteer-run or staffed by only one or two employees, these grants helped when they were unable to apply for other sources of federal or state support.