Happy National Arts & Humanities Month!

October is a big month in Minnesota; lots going on, lots of changes. It’s Veterans’ Voices Month and Breast Cancer Awareness Month; it’s a time to celebrate Halloween and Indigenous People’s Day. “Sweata weatha” and PSL excitement abounds, but here at MHC, we’re also excited about another October celebration… October is National Arts & Humanities Month (NAHM)!

NAHM is a “…coast-to-coast collective recognition of the importance of culture in America. NAHM was launched by Americans for the Arts more than 30 years ago as National Arts Week in honor of the twentieth anniversary of the National Endowment for the Arts. In 1993, it was reestablished by Americans for the Arts and national arts partners as a month-long celebration, with goals of:

  • Focusing on the arts at local, state, and national levels;
  • Encouraging individuals and organizations to participate in the arts;
  • Allowing governments and businesses to show their support of the arts; and
  • Raising public awareness about the role the arts and humanities play in our communities and lives.”

Americans for the Arts – National Arts and Humanities Month

We’re here to say, “Hooray for NAHM!” and also, “Don’t forget about the humanities!” You’ll notice that the above sounds important and exciting. You’ll also notice that it’s primarily arts focused… Critical to the recognition of this month and its celebration is the understanding that the arts and humanities are both intrinsically linked and distinctly different.

According to the National Foundation on the Arts and Humanities Act (the federal legislation that created both the NEH and NEA) the definition of arts and humanities are as follows:

“The term ‘humanities’ includes, but is not limited to, the study and interpretation of the following: language, both modern and classical; linguistics; literature; history; jurisprudence; philosophy; archaeology; comparative religion; ethics; the history, criticism and theory of the arts; those aspects of social sciences which have humanistic content and employ humanistic methods; and the study and application of the humanities to the human environment with particular attention to reflecting our diverse heritage, traditions, and history and to the relevance of the humanities to the current conditions of national life.

The term ‘the arts’ includes, but is not limited to, music (instrumental and vocal), dance, drama, folk art, creative writing, architecture and allied fields, painting, sculpture, photography, graphic and craft arts, industrial design, costume and fashion design, motion pictures, television, radio, film, video, tape and sound recording, the arts related to the presentation, performance, execution, and exhibition of such major art forms, all those traditional arts practiced by the diverse peoples of this country. [,] and the study and application of the arts to the human environment.”

National Foundation on the Arts and the Humanities Act, 1965, as amended

More simply put, the arts are the act of human creation/creative expression and the humanities are the process of understanding the human experience. As you can see from the above, however, there are connections, redundancies, and overlap – BUT they are clearly both critical to our shared humanity.

After all, what would a painting be but a collection of shapes and colors if not for language to talk about what it means or makes us feel? What would a sculpture be but twisted metal without the history of the artist, her cultural context, and her motivation and inspiration for its creation? What would a poem be but pen and ink without philosophy to give it meaning and human significance?

As you go forth and celebrate all things arts and humanities this month, we just ask that you remember the humanities and take them with you into every interaction you have with art, life, and your fellow humans. That’s why they exist, and that’s why we support them.

Happy NAHM!

Minnesota Humanities Center

Author: Minnesota Humanities Center

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