William D. “Bro” Adams, who resigned as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities effective Tuesday, plans to return to his home in Maine to advocate for the agency that President Trump wants to eliminate. A Falmouth resident, Adams will use his contacts and his influence in Washington, D.C., to argue for protecting the agency and for arts funding in general.

“I intend to be very active in the humanities’ community and to continue making the case for the importance of the humanities and the arts in our national life,” he said in a phone interview Tuesday.

The former president of Colby College, Adams was appointed chairman by President Barack Obama. His term was due to expire in 2018. Adams said he resigned for personal and professional reasons. More political appointees from the Trump administration have arrived to work at the independent federal agency, so he decided it was time to go.

“The transition we expected in January or February is now starting slowly to take place. For a number of organizational reasons, now was a reasonable time,” he said. “There are also personal things that made it seem like a good time. I have some family obligations I want to take care of.”

Under his leadership, the agency focused on demonstrating the value of the humanities. He began programs empowering veterans to use their own words and voices to talk about their experiences. Other programs encouraged scholars to link the humanities to contemporary issues.

CONFRONTING ‘THE THREAT OF DEFUNDING’

Adams announced his resignation Monday, and his last day at the agency was Tuesday. He spent much of it receiving visitors at his office and bidding farewell to colleagues. He said working at the National Endowment for the Humanities lately has been challenging, because of uncertainty under the Trump administration. Trump has advocated for deep cuts to federally funded arts organizations, and his administration recently appointed a liaison to Adams’ office, which sometimes happens when the leadership of the agency was appointed by the opposing party.

“It’s difficult to live under the threat of defunding. That is an obvious thing to say, but organizationally it makes life challenging in ways that I think everyone can relate to. The particular challenge at the National Endowment for the Humanities is, how do we keep our heads down and how do we keep doing the great work we do while this budget discussion is going on,” he said. “That’s demanding. I give credit to my colleagues, managing to do the work we do while understanding this existential threat around us.”

He acknowledged that he may be more effective as the former chairman of the agency than as the sitting chairman, because he will have the opportunity to speak out. “Because I work for the executive branch of government, there are certain topics I can’t speak about,” he said. “I look forward to speaking about them as a private citizen.”

Adams, 69, said he did not have specific plans for his post-NEH career, other than it will involve arts advocacy work and he will base it from his home in Falmouth. “I won’t start an organization, but I hope I can hitch my wagon to some organization or organizations. I am not sure what these will be. But I will stay in the cultural sphere and help local organizations make the case for what they are doing, and use the humanities network that I have become close to here as my entrée to those bigger topics.”

HIS DEPARTURE WAS ‘KIND OF INEVITABLE’

Before going to work in Washington, Adams presided at Colby for 14 years, where he oversaw an expansion of the Colby College Museum of Art fueled by gifts of art from Peter and Paul Lunder, longtime Colby benefactors. He’s maintained his home in Falmouth while working in Washington and was back in Maine in February to tour the Portland Museum of Art, where the agency invested $400,000 in grants. At that time, Adams told the Press Herald, “I’m going to be at the NEH until I’m not at the NEH anymore, and I’ll see this through to whatever point it makes sense. And after that, I’ll come back to Maine.”

Members of the Maine congressional delegation praised Adams for his work at the agency. Rep. Chellie Pingree wrote on Twitter, “Bro Adams is a great leader. His resignation is a loss for @NEHgov. We hope he’ll bring his talents back to #Maine.”

Then she vowed to fight for arts funding: “Pres Trump has zeroed out funding for @NEHgov even though it’s 0.003% of annual fed budget. I’ll keep fighting to preserve its vital work.”

In a statement, Sen. Susan Collins noted that, under Adams’ tenure, the agency increased educational and cultural programs in Maine and across the country, including the creation of a program aimed at helping veterans return to society through art, called “Standing Together.”

Adams was philosophical about his departure, chalking it up to the political cycle. “It’s kind of inevitable in the course of these transitions of power. That’s the way it works,” he said.

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

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