We put the humanities in action to create positive change.
Earlier this year President Trump released an FY2018 budget request that called for elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH), along with the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), Institute for Museum and Library Services, and Corporation for Public Broadcasting. In stark contrast, on July 18 the U.S. House Appropriations Committee approved a bill that provides funding for NEH and NEA at a level of $145 million each for FY2018. While $145 million is a $4.8 million decrease from FY 2017 levels for NEH, a line item increase of $2 million for state humanities councils was proposed within NEH's budget.
The Meadville Heart & Soul team is hard at work, having recently relaunched their project under the name My Meadville. This relaunch, along with their rank expansion and partnership development efforts, has enabled them to garner the community support and buy-in that is crucial to the success of Heart & Soul. My Meadville has successfully integrated their efforts into preexisting community development efforts and serves as a unifying force among them.
Through funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Standing Together initiative, we've partnered with Penn VUB to expand and enhance the program’s humanities components. The primary goal is to help participants build vital skills such as synthesizing information, effective communication and critical reflection, all of which contribute to success in postsecondary education. Another program goal: building students' confidence in their ability to effect positive change, not only in their own lives, but in their communities as well.
If you're reading this, you're probably familiar with many of the talking points about how the humanities benefit society. Exposure to the arts improves student test scores. Museum attendance leads to positive developmental outcomes. And a liberal arts education can cultivate a set of skills in students that appeal to employers. But can the humanities play a constructive role in community planning efforts? It's an intriguing idea, and it goes to the heart of the Orton Family Foundation's Community Heart and Soul method. This method "empowers people to shape the future of their communities by improving local decision making, creating a shared sense of belonging, and ultimately strengthening the social, cultural and economic vibrancy of communities."
Last fall, not long after the presidential election, Laurie Zierer spoke with Congressman Charlie Dent in his district office in Allentown. Zierer, who is executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC), made the visit with Josh Berk, executive director of the Bethlehem Area Public Library, to present the case for strong federal funding for arts and humanities. At that time Zierer told Dent that the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) had brought $24.3 million to Pennsylvania over the last five years, and nearly $700,000 directly to his district. “I asked him, ‘Can you imagine how much more compelling the story would be if we added federal funding for the arts, library, and museum sectors?’ And he said, ‘I think it’s time to have a meeting.’”
How are cultural leaders and practitioners addressing artistic and organizational challenges today? And how do they make room for creative and institutional growth, while facing shifting audience expectations and consumer behaviors? In this series of interviews with Center grantees, we offer a look inside the practices of many of Philadelphia’s leading cultural institutions and artists, their distinct characters, aspirations, and more. Here, we speak to Laurie Zierer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) whose ongoing Center-funded project, Chester Made Cultural Exploration Zone, seeks to revitalize Chester’s downtown by engaging the community in place-making activities and pop-up “maker spaces” to design prototypes that beautify, reinterpret, and animate vacant public spaces. Zierer talks with us about the story-gathering processes involved in the project, PHC’s embrace of mobile technology and socially-engaged practice, and her vision for the future. Learn more about Chester Made here.>>
Learn how libraries and youth organizations successfully conduct outreach to recruit young people through this conversation on best practices, challenges and concrete strategies. This webinar on Outreach & Recruitment was produced by PHC and moderated by Valerie Adams-Bass, Assistant Professor of Youth and Social Innovations in the Department of Human Services at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education.
PHC has partnered with The Orton Family Foundation to support the city of Uniontown as it incorporates a humanities-based approach to community development. Uniontown has been awarded a $1,000 grant from PHC along with training support valued at $7,500 provided by the Orton Family Foundation to help the city prepare for a Community Heart & Soul® project. PHC and Orton are working together to bring Community Heart & Soul, a community development model pioneered by Orton, to small cities and towns across Pennsylvania. Uniontown will be the fifth Pennsylvania community currently participating in the program, joining Carlisle, Easton, Meadville and Williamsport.
What does it mean to work with communities to make social change? “Sometimes you have to get off the bus. We cannot be tourists as program partners or grantmakers,” said Pennsylvania Humanities Council executive director Laurie Zierer, recounting how she first met Chester artist and entrepreneur Devon Walls. “I remember launching the Chester Made project,” Zierer said. “We did just that—we got off the bus driving us through downtown Chester, and we talked with people. And that’s when everything started to happen for us. We began meeting artists like Devon who had long been working to revitalize the downtown and engage the community through the arts.”
For author Alex London, dystopias are not just a fun premise for a novel. In a recent visit to the teens of Huntingdon Valley Library’s Teen Reading Lounge program, London emphasized the extent to which dystopias should reflect and engage with real-world issues in a meaningful way. When he was 21, London had the opportunity to work with Refugees International, an organization which advocates for the rights of displaced people around the world. He wrote a “grown-up book” based on this experience, One Day The Soldiers Came, in which he interviewed children in war-torn areas. This gave him an interest in how children and teenagers are able to adapt to adverse circumstances, which over time gave him the impetus to begin writing science-fiction novels, the first of which was Proxy.
This is a publication about microcultures in philanthropy — small groups of people in our organizations with their own assumptions, values and working behaviors. These groups significantly shape the underlying character of our organizations.
Governor Tom Wolf has appointed Gwendolyn White (Erie), Allen Dieterich-Ward (Shippensburg), and Christina Donato Saler (Bala Cynwyd) to the Pennsylvania Humanities Council Board of Directors.