This August I attended a panel discussion, “Civility: The Case for Collaboration” to commemorate the 25th Anniversary of the Haub School and Ruckelshaus Institute of Environment and Natural Resources at the University of Wyoming. The panel featured several of Wyoming’s senior stateswomen and men: former Wyoming Governor and Ambassador Mike Sullivan, former U.S. Senator Al Simpson, former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Director John F. Turner, and moderated by former Wyoming supreme Court Chief Justice Marilyn Kite. I’ve seen all these great Wyoming leaders speak on panels, several of them about civility even, but at this particular panel Governor Sullivan said something that stuck with many of us. Mike forcefully asserted, in his typical frank and forthright manner, “Politics is an honorable duty and profession and the minute you declare yourself as running for office you are a politician. Stop saying you deserve to be elected because ‘you are not a politician,’ that denigrates this important and honorable job.”
The audience suddenly realized how much we’d been allowing the all-politicians-are-corrupt narrative to reshape how people run for office. We’ve learned that being an outsider is not necessarily the best indicator of whether a person will be successful in public office. The ensuing conversation reminded me of how many politicians, public officials, and government employees I’ve had the good fortune to meet and work with over the years. Every last one of them were good people with good hearts and the best interests of their constituents was foremost in their minds. It’s time we give thanks for these people, many of them whom hold thankless jobs making sure our state and nation work as well as possible.
Like many institutions and agencies in our state, we couldn’t serve Wyoming without the federal government. Our primary funding, for the last 48 years, comes from the National Endowment for the Humanities. We are truly grateful that Wyoming’s U.S. Congressional Delegation, Senator Mike Enzi, Senator John Barrasso, and Representative Liz Cheney have all expressed their strong support for our work. Their professional staffs are always gracious and they take our meetings every year in D.C. and help us navigate the complexities of federal funding.
Since 2009, the State Legislature of Wyoming has provided funding to our council to use to promote civil conversations in a safe and nonpartisan way that only a humanities-based program can truly manage. The funding they appropriate to us goes directly to programs and grants and enables us to invest in the cultural infrastructure of Wyoming in every county. Their support strengthens the economy and quality of life in Wyoming and even in hard times they have managed to ensure and protect our ability to serve the state. Their support staff, the Legislative Services Office, are incredibly professional and efficient and they make sure all Wyomingites know what is going on in our legislature at all times.
Our state funding is via our close partnership with the Wyoming Department of State Parks and Cultural Resources. Working with their wonderful director, Darin Westby, and his two incredible administrators, Domenic Bravo (State Parks and Outdoor Recreation), and Sara Needles (Cultural Resources) is a true joy and Wyoming is blessed to have them oversee such an important part of our quality of life.
In November 2016, Governor Mead created the Economically Needed Diversification of Wyoming (ENDOW) initiative proposing economic action spanning the next 20 years—efforts that go beyond one or two election cycles—to help Wyoming break from the boom-and-bust cycles that have plagued us throughout our history. ENDOW has held dozens of public meetings and heard from over 140,000 residents to create a 20-year vision for our state that was submitted to the governor and the Wyoming Legislature in August. Its vision makes clear that the cultural arts and creative economy are vital to our future—both in terms of creating a quality of life that will attract and keep new residents, and in pure economic development terms. We are grateful to the leaders who volunteered their time and the state agencies that supported them in this work. This report holds the key to the very future of our state and we should all pay attention to what it said and how our future leaders use these recommendations. We are blessed that Governor Mead had the vision and foresight to put ENDOW together and proud that our council has been able to work with ENDOW to ensure the creative and cultural economy is emphasized in our future plans.
Ours is an industry that cannot be fully supported by the private sector, nor should it be exclusively supported by the public sector. As the legislation that created the National Endowments for the Arts and Humanities states: “The arts and the humanities belong to all the people of the United States and while they are primarily a matter for private and local initiative, they are also appropriate matters of concern for our government.” The cultural arts should be brought to society through a carefully arranged marriage of public and private resources. We are truly blessed to have such strong public support in Wyoming. Thank your leaders and public employees for this the next time you seem them!