WASHINGTON — Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski accepted an award Tuesday for her service in supporting the arts in a ceremony where advocates touted the value of federal funding for the National Endowment for the Arts.
The program came in the week following President Donald Trump's budget request to slash arts funding, cutting the budgets of the NEA and the National Endowment for Humanities to zero. It is not a suggestion without precedent: President Ronald Reagan suggested cutting the programs in 1981, though it did not come to pass.
The state of Alaska receives millions in federal arts funding, though most of the grants run in the tens of thousands of dollars, according to the agency's grant database. The NEA, established in 1965, has an annual budget of $148 million.
A nonprofit focused on advocating for arts and arts education — Americans for the Arts — presented the award to Murkowski on its kickoff funding advocacy day on Capitol Hill.
"Lisa Murkowski is a true leader in support for the arts in this country," said Robert L. Lynch, president and CEO of Americans for the Arts. "She understands the role that the arts play in uniting communities and advancing the economy, and her dedication and hard work for the arts in the Senate is invaluable not only to her home state of Alaska but to citizens nationwide."
Murkowski's nomination to the award was supported by Benjamin Brown, who chairs the Alaska State Council on the Arts. Brown said in a statement that Murkowski "understands both the intrinsic and instrumental benefits that the arts provide to all Americans, and especially appreciates the ways in which arts and culture make life in Alaska rewarding and prosperous."
An Alaska artist was in the crowd Tuesday — Rika Mouw, an artist from Homer. Mouw's exhibit, "Decolonizing Alaska," was shown at the Corcoran School of Art and Design in Washington, D.C. , until last Sunday.
Murkowski said Tuesday afternoon that she believes the arts are worthy of government support.
During her acceptance speech, the senator said she was struck by one speaker's use of the term "cultural infrastructure," and urged activists to repeat that while lobbying for arts funding.
She also encouraged them to tell stories, "of the veteran who's now part of the healing arts program … or the child who is dealing with his own level of stress and trauma brought about through childhood violence."
"Know that here on Capitol Hill, these are interesting times," Murkowski said. "But I strive to remember again the grace and the beauty that comes with the arts, with the humanities."