In February 2023, National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) Chair Shelly C. Lowe (Navajo) and National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chair Maria Rosario Jackson traveled to Puerto Rico for their first joint agency trip. NEH and NEA selected Puerto Rico for this historical visit to advance the agencies’ shared goals of increasing outreach to states and jurisdictions that have historically received less federal funding and encourage more institutions, and individuals, to apply for grants. The three-day tour of Puerto Rico’s vibrant communities was an opportunity to learn about the current state of arts and humanities funding, meet with grant recipients, and celebrate the culture of Puerto Rico and the talented individuals that call the island home.
With more than 3.2 million people, Puerto Rico is a self-governing commonwealth and has a unique history with, and relationship to, the rest of the United States. Understanding that legacy and how it manifests in art, culture, and education today is critical to effectively supporting Puerto Rico through federal grants and agency partnerships. The agencies were hosted by Humanidades Puerto Rico (HPR), Puerto Rico’s NEH-affiliated humanities council, and the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña (ICP), NEA’s partner and the local arts agency. Chair Lowe and Chair Jackson saw firsthand the impact of NEH, NEA, and their local partners in communities across the island and identified opportunities for further collaboration.
Between 2018 and 2023, NEH awarded $6.6 million in grant funds to Puerto Rico, including $4 million to HPR to support the council’s public humanities programming, grants to small local organizations, and American Rescue Plan COVID-19 relief awards to sustain cultural institutions and nonprofits as they navigated the pandemic. Since its founding in 1977 as one of 56 state and jurisdictional affiliate councils of NEH, HPR has worked to preserve Puerto Rico’s history and grow its cultural landscape, funding hundreds of projects including 155 documentaries, 18 television programs, and 240 publications. Chair Lowe, Senior Deputy Chair Anthony Mitchell, and Chief of Staff Kelsey Coates met with HPR staff and Executive Director Sonya Canetti to discuss the important work the council is doing to champion the humanities in Puerto Rico as an affiliate of NEH. HPR serves as Puerto Rico’s Center for the Book, manages an online encyclopedia of Puerto Rican cultural history, and administers grantmaking, to name just a few of the council’s many programs, partnerships, and activities. Over the course of the tour, NEH and HPR staff members found new ways for the agency to expand its support for the network of universities, conservationists, researchers, museums, and nonprofits working in the humanities on the island.
NEH and NEA met with ICP Executive Director Ruiz Cortés and his staff to learn more about the role of ICP on the island, its partnership with NEA, and its work to expand arts opportunities locally and share the work of Puerto Rican artists globally.
In addition to meeting with local partners, Chair Lowe and Chair Jackson participated in broader conversations about arts and humanities funding opportunities in Puerto Rico with members of the community and local government. On February 17, the NEH and NEA teams met with Governor Pedro Pierluisi at the historic La Fortaleza residence, the first fortification built in San Juan in the sixteenth century. During their meeting, Governor Pierluisi gave the agencies an overview of arts and humanities policy in Puerto Rico and discussed the impact of the American Rescue Plan on the island’s pandemic recovery in the cultural sector and beyond.
“Recibimos la visita de Shelly Lowe y Dra. Maria Rosario Jackson, presidentas de la National Endowment for the Humanities y National Endowment for the Arts, respectivamente. En un evento histórico, ambas entidades se encuentran realizando un recorrido para conocer los proyectos en las instituciones de arte, cultura e historia de Puerto Rico.
Agradecemos su apoyo a la educación, preservación y desarrollo de las humanidades en la Isla.”
“We received a visit from Shelly Lowe and Dr. Maria Rosario Jackson, presidents of the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Endowment for the Arts, respectively. In a historic event, both entities took a tour to learn about the projects in the art, culture, and history institutions of Puerto Rico.
We appreciate your support for education, preservation, and development of the humanities on the Island.”
-Governor Pedro Pierluisi (via Twitter @GovPierluisi)
On February 18, Chair Lowe and Chair Jackson participated in a roundtable discussion at Sagrado Corazón University, an NEH and NEA grant recipient, alongside University President Gilberto J. Marxuach Torrós, faculty, and students, as well as members of HPR and ICP. During the two-hour session at Sagrado Corazón, Puerto Rico’s oldest educational institution, participants discussed arts and humanities education on the island and how NEH, NEA, and local partners can support faculty and students in those fields broadly, and more specifically at Hispanic-serving institutions.
Throughout the tour, Chair Lowe and Chair Jackson met grant recipients and spent time in the communities where support for the arts and humanities is expanding opportunities for education, exploration, and expression. In addition to working with NEA to promote and fund the arts, ICP operates the National Library of Puerto Rico and the General Archives of Puerto Rico, which houses maps, photographs, manuscripts, video, and government records documenting the history of Puerto Rico from the sixteenth century onward. Six NEH grants to ICP have supported a variety of conservation and preservation work at these centers. Chair Lowe and NEH staff met with members of the General Archives staff to learn how NEH funding supports the preservation of the collection documenting social, economic, and political life Puerto Rico in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The General Archives experienced severe damage following Hurricane Maria in 2017; NEH funding from the Division of Preservation and Access provided resources for emergency relief and long-term investments in conservation.
Puerto Rico has a wide-reaching network of museums and historic sites, several of which NEH and NEA teams visited to see how federal grants are preserving history, showcasing centuries of artistry, and telling the stories of the island. In the Ballajá neighborhood of Old San Juan, the historic Asilo de Beneficencia serves as the ICP headquarters and the site of the newly opened “Muestra Legado,” a multidisciplinary exhibition featuring historic and contemporary works. Chair Lowe and Chair Jackson toured the exhibition and met with Awilda Sterling Duprey, a Puerto Rican dancer, choreographer, and 2010 United States Artists Fellow. Later in the week, NEH and NEA teams visited the Museo de Arte Contemporáneo de Puerto Rico (MAC), housed in an early-twentieth century building listed on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, to view its collection of modern art produced in Puerto Rico, the Caribbean, Latin America, and its diasporas. In 2018, the MAC received an NEH grant to purchase a generator to protect the museum’s art collection from water and mold damage while the area was without electricity in the wake of Hurricanes Maria and Irma.
With support from NEH and NEA, HPR and ICP grants and public arts and humanities programming reach all corners of Puerto Rico. During their trip, Chair Lowe and Chair Jackson were able to visit a number of communities to see the impact of NEH’s and NEA’s grantmaking. In the Santurce neighborhood, La Goyco is a cultural community center dedicated to arts and humanities initiatives, providing cultural workshops, screenings, and events, alongside healthcare and health resources. Chair Lowe and Chair Jackson met with the center’s team and took part in some of their community activities. NEH and NEA team members were introduced to local La Goyco funders, including the Titín Foundation and Flamboyán Foundation. The agencies ended their trip in the Bayamón Cultural District, where they were hosted by Mayor Ramón Luis Rivera and First Lady Narel Waleska Colón.
NEH is grateful to our many partners in Puerto Rico, particularly HPR Executive Director Sonya Canetti, Board Chair Jaime E. Toro-Monserrate, the council staff, ICP Executive Director Ruiz Cortés and his colleagues, and the many grant recipients, cultural organizations, and government officials who welcomed Chair Lowe and Chair Jackson and shared their time and community with NEH.