Monday Marvels

While processing collections, archivists occasionally come across documents related to someone who was very famous, powerful, or important in some way. We say that these items have intrinsic value – that is to say, the item is important partially because of its physical characteristics, and a photocopy of it would not offer the same type of value. We look for many types of value in archives; this is one that describes very specific types of materials. For example, a check signed by Louis Armstrong would have intrinsic value because of its physical association with the jazz legend. An actual signature on a document touched by someone with that amount of historical influence would normally be something that people would think is worth keeping, even if they would dispose of a very similar item signed by someone else.

Many times the value we search for is informational in nature – what can people learn from this document? Might anyone be interested in using it as part of a research project in the future? What does it tell us about a specific person or event, and how does that fit in with the larger picture of society in this time period? Sometimes, though, it’s great just to find something that was read by or written to someone with a big name; someone you’ve read about in school or seen on television, or someone you greatly admire for their actions and accomplishments.

The following document doesn’t strictly fall into the realm of intrinsic value (it’s debatable, anyway), but it was written by the ACLS to someone quite well-known: President Lyndon B. Johnson. This letter, written by former ACLS President R. M. Lumiansky, thanks President Johnson for his strong backing of the arts and humanities.

1967.03.01 Letter to LBJ

I suspect the special message to Congress mentioned is the one here; it’s dated just a few days before this letter was written. In this special message, President Johnson asks Congress to approve a $16 million budget for the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities, increasing it almost one-third from the previous budget.

It’s always wonderful to see people in power fighting for arts and humanities funding. Although the President did not personally write back to the ACLS, there is a response from his office thanking the organization for its support.

Monday Marvels

Do you like art? Maybe a better question would be whether there are people who don’t like art – between visual arts, creative writing, dance, film, music, and all of the other art forms out there, there’s a lot to like! I love it (full disclosure: both my middle school and my high school focused on art), and I always stand behind the idea of the government giving more funding to arts programs, especially those in educational facilities.

Do you know who else liked art? William Ainsworth Parker, former Secretary for Fellowships with the ACLS. In 1954, the American government was debating H.R. 9111, which Parker described as “the most comprehensive attempt in recent years to increase the participation of the Federal Government in a program for the arts.” This description is from his supportive statement to the U.S. House of Representatives on June 8th, 1954. At a time when some people were arguing against arts funding because it might end up going to left-leaning anti-Americans, Parker argued just the opposite: “…it would also provide a positive answer to Communist propaganda against this nation.” What better way to let the world see the spirit of America than through its art?

A democracy which from the outside appears to be machined and spiritless will not win converts or friends. This nation, in all of its diversity, is a living ideal to less fortunate men and women in other countries. For our own sakes, we must turn a spirited face towards the peoples of the world.

Well said, Mr. Parker.

This statement shows that the ACLS has long held a place of importance in American society – enough importance that a representative of the organization was asked to speak in front of the House, and the organization itself was asked to be “one of the agencies assigned responsibility for submitting recommendations to the President concerning positions on the proposed National War Memorial Arts Commission, on the Commission of Fine Arts, and on the Smithsonian Art Commission.”

Of course we still see people arguing today about whether the government should play a role in arts funding, so this is a pertinent topic even now. What do you think? Would you have supported H.R. 9111?

Parker's testimony - page 1

Parker’s testimony – page 1

Parker's testimony - page 2

Parker’s testimony – page 2