Amid funding loss fears, AZ Humanities hosts Miranda v. Arizona discussion

AZ Humanities executive director Brenda Thomson wipes away tears while imploring attendees of the Miranda v Arizona: 50 Years Later event to contact their representatives about National Endowment for the Humanities funding. (Nicole Neri/DD)

Programming like AZ Humanities’ “Miranda v Arizona: 50 Years Later,” a community discussion on the landmark Supreme Court Case held Tuesday night in the historic Ellis-Shackelford House, is in jeopardy.

According to a report in The Hill in January, the federal budget blueprint contains a plan to cut all funding to the National Endowment for the Humanities.

If this plan goes through, AZ Humanities would take a significant hit. According to their 2017 fiscal year draft budget, more than 80 percent of its income is funded by the NEH.

“The work is vital to keeping people involved in the lives of their communities,” said Brenda Thomson, executive director of AZ Humanities. “It’s a way of educating people about the future by learning about the past… What we’re doing is invaluable.”

During the Miranda v Arizona event on Feb. 21, Heather Hamel, founder and executive director of nonprofit organization Justice that Works, spoke about the context and impact of the Miranda v Arizona case. She said the case was meant to curb police power, but that police power instead greatly increased over the 50 years that followed, despite the shift the case was meant to cause.

Attendees stayed in the Ellis-Shackelford house long after the event ended, most lining up to speak to Hamel and staying to talk to each other.

“The fact that people are here this evening means that something about the subject of Miranda and that case, even 50 years later, still resonates with them,” Thomson said. “And they’re having this passionate, urgent conversation about it.”

Attendee Raji Ganesan said the events like the Miranda v Arizona conversation create a re-imagining of the classroom that is accessible to anyone in the community, and they put historical events into context.

“A space this beautiful and this warm is no accident,” Ganesan said. “To invite people from potentially all corners of this city into a building to break bread and listen to someone like Heather… that’s an opportunity that I never like to say no to.”

Thomson said the most important thing that AZ Humanities fosters is civic engagement, and that there can be community conversations like the Miranda v Arizona talks is “what is unique to the United States.”

Thomson urged attendees to contact their representatives about their opinions on funding of the NEH through email or phone calls, and said even a few sentences is enough.

“If we’re not able to show up in spaces together and have discourse,” Ganesan said. “A lot can be lost”.

Clarification: February 23, 2017

An earlier version of this story cited AZ Humanities’ 2017 fiscal year budget with a link to the 2017 fiscal year draft budget. The story has been updated to indicate the information is from the draft budget.

Contact the reporter at nicole.neri@asu.edu.