I was poet laureate of Delaware from 2001-2007. During that time, the Delaware Council for the Arts, significantly supported by the NEA, managed my visits to schools, libraries, and private institutions. They paid me a small stipend for each visit. This allowed me to be a real, live presence all over the state, speaking for and demonstrating my art. Some libraries where I gave readings had never had a poet visit before, and some people who heard me read had never heard poetry read aloud. For many, it was a revelation, that what they’d considered a stuffy or dead art was alive, and actually exciting to hear.
My main project each year was to select 12 fledgling poets (and later, we included fiction writers and another instructor), based on the quality of their work, and spend a three-day weekend with them at Delaware’s Cape Henlopen facility. Those chosen paid only a token of the cost of the weekend, the rest paid for by the Arts Council. We held intensive poetry and fiction workshops, and met individually with participants. I was told, over and over, that being chosen to participate, and working in this concentrated way, was life-changing. Many of those early participants now have published books, and one has since served as poet laureate of Delaware.
I now live in Michigan. I applaud the state programs supported in part by the NEA and the NEH such as the Ann Arbor Summer Festival, the University Musical Society, and the Detroit Institute of Arts, 21 organizations in all, and projects like arts therapy for our veterans, community renewal projects, and preservation of cultural heritage materials. Total funding for both Endowments is less than 0.001 percent of the federal budget.
No money was ever better spent. People’s lives are changed by art. Art helps us understand others through their languages, histories and cultures. It encourages us to think creatively. It teaches us to reason about being human and to ask questions about our world. Art develops informed and critical citizens.