William D. Adams, Chairman, National Endowment for the Humanities
I’d like to thank our hosts, the Cuban government and the people of Cuba, for the warm welcome we have received this week. It is a tremendous honor to be here.
It is also a wonderful opportunity. We know that our countries stand on the verge of a new era of engagement. To be successful, we believe that culture and cultural understanding must be at the very center of that engagement. For it is culture that in great part defines us, as individuals and as peoples; it is culture that gives meaning to everything we do.
At the National Endowment for the Humanities, the preservation, illumination, and appreciation of culture is one of our central purposes. We promote and strengthen the forms of knowledge that give us access to culture—history, philosophy, the study of language and literature and art, the study of religion, anthropology, and archaeology.
Of course, the humanities are also concerned with those things that transcend our particular cultures and histories. The humanities also seek to understand the human—the core experiences and realities of life that unite us across gaps of time, geography, and tradition.
All of the expressions and uses of the humanities—those invested in the particular and those invested in the universal—will be important to this new period of engagement and cooperation between our two counties.
At the time our agency was created in 1965, relations between the United States and Cuba had already entered the difficult period that is now coming to a close. But even as our countries remained politically distant, NEH grants over the years helped further understanding of Cuba’s culture and the history.
Since the agency’s founding in 1965, we have awarded 80 grants totaling $2.5 million to scholars, educators, and filmmakers who make Cuba the focus of their work.
NEH grants enabled the creation of a documentary on the history of Cuban jazz and its influence on musicians in the United States. NEH-supported scholars have studied the causes of Cuba’s 19th century sugar revolution, examined the connections between Cuban independence movements and anti-slavery campaigns in the United States, and traced the evolution of modern Cuban ballet.
Our grants supported a summer institute for college and university teachers studying the life and writing of poet, philosopher, and revolutionary José Martí, who produced some of his most influential works while in the United States.
And they have provided for the publication of the letters and personal papers of one of America’s greatest writers, Ernest Hemingway, who made his home in Cuba and wrote some of his most important works here.
Tomorrow, we will conclude this trip with a public announcement about plans to continue the productive engagement we have had with Cuban cultural leaders and officials. It has been a privilege to be in dialogue about the potential for exchange of information about conservation practices and techniques, motivated by our shared recognition of the value and importance of preserving cultural heritage. Our hope is that together we can shape a meaningful program to highlight the excellent work involved in the preservation of the historic and cultural resources we have seen this week, and that our efforts will eventually open up an extended dialogue between Cuban and American conservators on how best to care for our cultural heritage.
As our two nations work toward a new relationship, we believe that exchanges of this kind will play an essential role in building bridges of understanding and collaboration between the Cuban and American peoples. But we are also confident that as we come to know better our distinctive traditions and practices, the humanities will also reveal the things we share in common, and that we’ve always shared, as human beings who seek to live in dignity and freedom.
Thank you again for your gracious welcome.