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White House-hosted arts summit explores how to incorporate arts and humanities into problem-solving

Jan 30, 2024, 10:14 AM

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Environmental Protection Agency will assign artists to treasured bodies of water in the United States under a new program announced Tuesday at a White House-sponsored conference on exploring ways to use the arts and humanities as another instrument for problem-solving.

Leaders from government, the arts, academia and philanthropy gathered in Washington for “Healing, Bridging, Thriving: A Summit on Arts and Culture in our Communities.” Panel discussions focused on turning to the arts and humanities to solve challenges, from improving health to bridging divides.

The Joe Biden.

Neera Tanden, who advises the Democratic president on domestic policy issues, said in an interview with The Associated Press before the summit that the arts help “people to see each other and understand how we’re connected,” which can help “mend the social fabric of the country.”

Maria Rosario Jackson, the NEA chair, in a separate interview said the conference is an “unprecedented opportunity for people from different sectors to come together and lift up and explore some of the things that are possible when one thinks of the arts as not being confined to a narrow sector, but woven and integrated into other things we care about.”

Discussions focused on using the arts and humanities to improve health and infrastructure and promote a healthy democracy. Participants included soprano Renee Fleming and actor Anna Deavere Smith. Doug Emhoff, the husband of Vice President Kamala Harris, was also scheduled to participate.

Radhika Fox, assistant administrator for the EPA’s Office of Water, announced the first-ever artist-in-residence program “to unleash the power of arts and culture to support water restoration and climate resilient efforts around the country.”

To start, artists will be embedded in national estuaries and urban waters federal partnerships in six regions of the country: Seattle, New Mexico, Puerto Rico, greater Philadelphia, Boston and the New York-New Jersey area. Each watershed will receive $200,00 to support the artist.

Jackson and Health and Human Services Secretary Xavier Becerra will co-chair a new government-wide working group on the arts, health and civic infrastructure, working with federal agencies to find ways to include the arts and humanities in these areas. HHS and the NEA have a long history of working together to improve health using the arts, including through music, Becerra said.

NEA is also committing $5 million for an initiative to support the work of artists and arts organizations that contribute to the health and well-being of individuals and communities.

Separately, the NEA and the National Endowment for the Humanities are collaborating on United We Stand: Connecting through Culture, an initiative that leverages the arts and humanities to combat hate-fueled violence. The program was launched in 2023, a year after Biden convened a similarly named summit at the White House focused on countering violence motivated by hate.

NEH committed $3 million to the program in 2023, and NEA is offering an additional $2 million.

Shelly Lowe, chair of the NEH, said art has an important role to play in the humanities.

“Art gives you a good sense of people’s cultures. That’s through painting, that’s through food, that’s through performances and music,” Lowe said in an interview before the summit. “They’re so tied together it’s hard to separate the two.”

Biden’s executive order said the arts, humanities and museum and library services are essential to the well-being, health, vitality and democracy of the nation.

“They are the soul of America,” Biden wrote in the order, adding that, under his leadership, they “will be integrated into strategies, policies and programs that advance the economic development, well-being and resilience of all communities, especially those that have historically been underserved.”

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White House-hosted arts summit explores how to incorporate arts and humanities into problem-solving