Jon Parrish Peede, NEH chairman-elect, visits Detroit

Michael H. Hodges
Detroit News Fine Arts Writer

On March 2, President Trump appointed Jon Parrish Peede chairman-elect of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The scholar of Southern literature was previously publisher of the Virginia Quarterly Review, and literature grants director at the National Endowment for the Arts. For the past year he’s served as NEH senior deputy chairman. Peede must still be confirmed by the Senate.

Jon Parrish Peeder, chairman-elect of the National Endowment for the Humanities, speaks with people from local cultural organizations during a reception,

The chairman-designate sat down late last week at a cafe on Detroit’s Capitol Park to talk over humanities funding, the president’s attitude toward NEH, what the Endowment’s done for Michigan lately, and the urban revival blossoming all around downtown.

Detroit News: What’s NEH’s investment in Michigan been like in recent years?

Parrish Peede: In the last 10 years, 183 grants have been awarded to Michigan totaling $29 million. And studies show that every federal dollar awarded generates $5 in local activity. So then you’re talking almost $150 million in economic activity.

Do you worry Congress will cut your budget?

Our budget this year is $153 million, the highest it’s been in six years. That’s also true with the NEA.

Didn’t the president want to zero-out the endowments?

The president made a budget recommendation to Congress (in March) that would have been a closure budget. Congress looked and decided instead to increase both the NEH and NEA budgets. So President Trump has signed two budget increases.

Why do you think Congress overrode the president’s request?

It was a clear message that the work of the NEA and NEH is vital, especially for smaller communities.

Is the president hostile to a federal role in culture?

President Trump has, on the record, acknowledged the importance of the arts and humanities. He just didn’t see them as domestic spending priorities.

Switching subjects, how does Detroit’s uptick look from Washington?

What I find compelling about Detroit is the mix of public and private commitments — you’ve seen everyday citizens, corporate leaders, and an infusion of targeted government resources work to bring back a great American city. Detroit and its rebirth are going to be essential material for urban planners in other parts of the country on how to get it right.

So do you enjoy your job?

It’s an exquisite job. What I love — I’ll go to the Detroit Institute of Arts and the Michigan Opera Theatre, that my dear friend Wayne Brown runs. At the same time, I’ll also typically be going somewhere to talk to middle-schoolers about American history. I love both sides of it — the great institutions and the small talent.

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Select NEH grants to Michigan over the past five years

■ $40,000: Detroit Institute of Arts to assess the museum’s administrative records dating back to 1883.

$100,000: Charles H. Wright Museum of African American History to expand its “Culture Corps” program.

$40,000: Detroit Historical Museum to plan “Detroit 1967: Looking Back to Move Forward” exhibition.

$100,000: Michigan Humanities Council to support “Third Coast Conversations,” a program focusing on the importance of water and the lakes.