Congresswoman Chellie Pingree

Representing the 1st District of Maine

Pingree Asks NEA to Reconsider Decision Not to Allow Maine Student to Compete in National Poetry Competition

Apr 12, 2018
Press Release

Congresswoman Chellie Pingree is asking the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) to reconsider its decision not to allow Portland student Allan Monga to compete in its National Poetry Out Loud competition. 

“The National Endowment for the Arts is all about supporting artistic expression from diverse voices and capturing different aspects of the American experience. As a young person seeking asylum in our country—and an exceptional performer—I think it would be terrible to exclude Allan’s voice from this competition,” Pingree said. “I don’t see a statutory basis to keep him or other outstanding students like him from competing and I hope the NEA reconsiders its decision.” 

Monga, who attends Deering High School, won Maine’s Poetry Out Loud state final but, according to the NEA, won’t be allowed to participate in the national competition because of his immigration status. An asylum seeker from Zambia, Monga is in the country lawfully. 

Pingree spoke with NEA Chairman Jane Chu about the matter last week and today sent a formal request to reconsider the decision.

Pingree is a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, which has oversight of discretionary funding at the NEA. She is also an ex officio member of the National Council on the Arts, which is  the Advisory Committee to the NEA.

Full text of the letter is below and a signed copy is here.

April 12, 2018

Chairman Jane Chu
National Endowment for the Arts
400 7th Street, SW
Washington, DC 20506

Dear Chairman Chu,

Following our recent conversation, I write today to express my disappointment in the National Endowment for the Arts’ (NEA) decision to disallow my constituent Allan Monga from participating in this year’s National Poetry Out Loud competition.

As you know, Allan is a student in good standing at Deering High School in Portland, Maine; he is also an asylum seeker who is lawfully present in the United States. As the winner of Maine’s State Final, he has earned the opportunity to compete  in the national competition set to take place later this month. 

I appreciate your willingness to discuss this issue with me previously, and I know that Poetry Out Loud’s longstanding criteria require that a participant be a citizen or a permanent legal resident. However, I am still not aware of any statutory grounds that would preclude Allan from participating. Further, the NEA is aware that he has received his Social Security number, which should resolve any ongoing concerns with transferring the monetary and travel awards associated with participation. 

If there is an explicit statutory basis for the decision to bar Allan’s participation in the competition, I ask that the NEA urgently provide that reasoning, given that the national competition is quickly approaching.

I know that we agree on the profound value of arts education – it empowers students to seek creative solutions, build meaningful relationships in their communities, and develop skills and interests that will enrich the rest of their lives. Allan embodies the spirit of those values and I sincerely hope that the NEA will find a way to allow his participation.

Sincerely,

Chellie Pingree
Member of Congress

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