There was an event today; a gathering of Lehigh Valley people involved in the arts, humanities, and libraries. The people in the room have dedicated their lives to the arts, not because they are determined to succeed, but they are called to serve. They dedicate their hearts and skills to keep the arts, history, and our collective human knowledge in tact for our community, and for our future.

There was also one other person in the room; Rep. Congressman Charlie Dent, leader of Pennsylvania’s 15th congressional district since 2004. Perhaps more significantly, he is on the Appropriations Committee in Congress.

The reason for the gathering was a program suggested by the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, who requested time in Congressman Dent’s schedule soon after the last presidential election. With good reason, statements from our current president cause much worry for us. To be threatened with a proposed elimination of the federal programs that have supported the character of our country is a doomsday scenario. Not that life wouldn’t go on, but the impact would be traumatic.

Since the culture wars of the 1990s, artists and arts organizations have been at the front of the firing line for each fiscal year budget (perhaps even since their foundations). While the comparative allocation of funds for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Institute of Museums and Library Services PALE in comparison to the national defense budget, the programs of these agencies provide national recognition of the ongoing work to preserve and nurture our national culture. There are many young artists that don’t understand how government funding or even the administration of government funding works. The people in this room do. We also know that we must summarize our truths in ways that translate to others who may not have the same emotional attachment to the issue.

Congressman Dent has been a part of the appropriations process for years. He understands the cycle that the president presents his budget ideas, but the congress actually is the branch of government that dispenses the funding. He took the time today to share with us, what he feels about the importance of the humanities, libraries, museums, and the arts, and to give a picture of the process. He took the time to communicate to us what we can do to support the future of our community’s pride, its soul, its creativity, its history, its character – its humanity.

Our local, state and, national arts agencies gather data on the economic impact the arts bring to communities. They facilitate research on programs that enhance education, health, and community vitality. One thing we learned today is the stories of our work could make the biggest difference in supporting the value of the intangible.

Do you have a story about how a musical experience, a play, a book, a poem, a piece of art, a film, or an historical site changed your life? If you do, it’s time to share that story instead of posting a complaint. The Lehigh Valley Arts Council launched a project to gather your story.  The Power of Story Project, an arts advocacy campaign that highlights how the arts touch lives. 

So the next time you have a complaint about a local mural, or a free outdoor concert, or your local library, or how a group of kids come together in the summer to learn to sing School House Rock, think about the group of people behind the scenes doing magical things to make that happen. Oh wait, it’s not magic? There’s actually knowledge and skills and long hours? Yep.

Then think about your story of how art changed your life. Think about who was involved in the moment. Think about all the conditions that led to that moment. Think of how empty your life would be if you hadn’t experienced that moment.

That’s how empty our future could be. Share your story. Be a force for positive change in your community.

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