Research beyond borders

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The Arts and Humanities Research Landscape in the US

When the AHRC asked me to write a 300 word blog describing the arts and humanities research landscape in the US, I smiled and said, “Oh, of course. Not a problem.”  Meanwhile my homunculus was screaming, “300 words? That is ridiculous. An impossible task!”  As an American working at the British Embassy, I have found myself often trying to explain the complex layered system of government and the even more complex social structure to my often bewildered or bemused British colleagues.  In this case the conversation would range from a detailed explanation of both the federal system and Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ. So instead you get some key bullet points to understanding the complex US arts and humanities landscape.  

  • The US does not have an equivalent funder to the AHRC.  Also, there is less federal funding for arts and humanities research.
  • In the US, funding for arts and humanities research is spread across at least three federal government agencies, the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), and the National Science Foundation (NSF).  The Smithsonian Institute is also a major contributor to arts and humanities research, but the research is done internally.
  • Congressional support of these organizations waxes and wanes according to who is in political power and the strength of the economy.
  • In addition to Federal government funders, many state and local government agencies fund arts and humanities research, usually focused on their local communities.
  • Alongside Federal funding, the United States boasts the world’s strongest networks of private foundations. The top 50 US foundations spent over $2.3 billion on over 5000 grants in arts and culture in 2011. A state by state map of funders can be found here.
  • Foundational funds also fluctuate with economic fluctuations.

Despite the complexity, there is a vibrant and dynamic arts and humanities research in the US.  The AHRC, with the assistance of the RCUK team here in Washington DC, is working to tighten and simplify relationships with the US federal agencies. Already there is a lead agency agreement between AHRC and NSF.  We hope this trend continues so that the UK and US arts and humanities research communities can more closely cooperate, more efficiently leverage funds, and produce world-class research.