As the calendar has turned to October, arts and humanities organizations have begun observing National Arts & Humanities Month (#NAHM), an opportunity to “celebrate our Nation’s visionary artists, scholars, and creators whose work touches and reveals the soul of America.”
In President Biden’s proclamation for the month-long celebration, he noted the steps his administration has taken to strengthen the arts and humanities including his appointment of Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson to chair the National Endowment for the Arts, the first African American and Mexican American to head the agency, and Shelly C. Lowe, the first Native American to chair the National Endowment for the Humanities. The selection of these two leaders is an important step, especially if we are, as the proclamation asserts, working to “tell our full story as a Nation.”
Telling that rich and complicated story and celebrating the diverse strands that make up our national culture are essential to building a just and equitable society.
A couple of weeks ago award-winning journalist, UC Irvine professor, and National Humanities Center trustee Héctor Tobar spoke to the importance of telling “our full story” as he offered some reflections at the beginning of National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15–October 15). Specifically, he discussed the ways that ‘Hispanic,’ ‘Latino,’ and ‘Latinx’ are used not only to group together those who trace their family histories and cultural identities to Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean and Central and South America but also to set them apart from the “American” story.
His argument could just as well be made for Black History Month (February), Women’s History Month (March), Asian Pacific American Heritage Month (May) or any of the half-dozen other “Months” in which we highlight the contributions of Americans from groups that have been historically overlooked and suffered various forms of social injustice. Actually, these are all arts and humanities months, as they draw attention to the distinctive cultures and histories that are interwoven into the grand narrative that we call “America.”
Our colleagues at Americans for the Arts are urging us to treat National Arts & Humanities Month as “an opportunity for everyone to help change public perception and promote the crucial role of the arts and humanities in…addressing trauma, connecting cultures, highlighting inequities, and making our communities healthier and stronger.” I would go another step further and encourage us to maintain this focus throughout the year.