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Over the last two years the Pennsylvania Humanities Council has led the Chester Made initiative in partnership with the City of Chester, Just Act (formerly Gas & Electric Arts), Chester Arts Alive!, Widener University, and The Artist Warehouse. This bold project is grounded in the belief “that democracy is animated by imaginative humanities programming—by people creatively engaged in history, storytelling, and dialogue about issues affecting their communities.” A report from Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, found that Chester Made delivered on its discovery and demonstration intents in many ways: "Chester Made set out to recognize and promote arts and culture in the City of Chester and to harness its power as a force for community revitalization. The project did this and more. ... As a result of this dynamic initiative, there is hope and excitement in the promise of new artist and cultural leadership in the downtown and in elevating new as well as longstanding cultural assets that are 'Chester Made through and through.' ” Findings According to the report, the Chester Made initiative Expanded who participates in public process. Revealed a spectrum of cultural assets that had not been fully known or acknowledged. Revealed that the impact of arts and culture on Chester and its people is profound and multidimensional. Generated a palpable sense of hope and pride among participants. Made important connections, improving existing relationships and building new relationships within and across sectors, catalyzing new collaborations, and developing leadership in the community for future efforts. Generated much learning about what it takes to plan and implement an arts-based and humanities-informed approach to civic planning and community building. Read the Executive Summary We invite you to read the executive summary based on the full report by Pam Korza and Barbara Schaffer Bacon of Animating Democracy. The summary focuses on the efficacy and value of a humanities-informed and arts-based approach for community research and planning and specific community outcomes of the Chester Made project. Funders This report was made possible with support from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
Chester Made partners have been invited to make presentations on the initiative and its impact both locally and nationally, from the 15th annual Imagining America conference in Baltimore to the National Humanities Conference of the Federation of State Humanities Councils in St. Louis. A selection of presentation summaries appears below. Philanthropy Network's Sparking Solutions Conference Theme--Learning and Leading Together in a Diverse Landscape Session--The Art of Community Engagement: Utilizing the Arts, Culture, and Humanities as Tools to Connect, Collaborate, and Transform November 12, 2015, Philadelphia Effective community engagement is a critical piece of any significant change initiative, but it is also one of the most challenging to accomplish in a meaningful and authentic way. Creative tools and approaches to engagement can play a critical role in overcoming these challenges, helping to increase understanding of community values, foster engagement across diverse stakeholder groups, and ultimately produce more satisfying, equitable, and rewarding outcomes for all involved. This session explored the opportunities presented by the arts, culture, and humanities to foster engagement and collaboration around critical community issues. Community leaders and regional funders shared insights from a number of outstanding community engagement initiatives taking place in our region that have utilized visual and performing arts to help drive community change and growth. These examples demonstrated the powerful impacts that can be had when funders, nonprofits, government, and most importantly, community members, use creative tools to achieve a common goal. Drawing from the experiences shared by our presenters, session participants engaged in a meaningful dialogue on how these lessons can be applied and expanded upon in their own work and throughout our region. Presenters Moderator Maud Lyon, Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance Artists working with community members to give them voice--and ownership of change Andrew Frishkoff, LISC Philadelphia Aviva Kapust, The Village of Arts and Humanities Using the arts to talk about difficult, deep issues, and blending old Germantown with new Germantown Trapeta Mayson, Historic Germantown Changing the narrative of the community Laurie Zierer, Pennsylvania Humanities Council Devon Walls, The Artist Warehouse Imagining America Conference Theme--America Will Be! The Art and Power of "Weaving Our We" Session--What Makes Chester, Chester: How Community Narratives Are Informing City Planning Saturday, October 3, 2015, Baltimore Chester Made created a dynamic public space for city residents to articulate personal stories and identify cultural assets toward re-imagining a positive community narrative and informing future revitalization efforts. In this session, participants experienced theatre- and story-based strategies used to engage a wide cross-section of Chester residents while building the arts-based engagement capacity of local artists. The Chester Made Ensemble gave a repeat performance of its presentation to Chester City Council, Bob Leonard hosted a talk show–style conversation, and the audience had multiple opportunities to ask questions and exchange with the presenters. The Pennsylvania Humanities Council situated the Chester Made project within its new Civic Engagement Initiative, which applies the humanities as a tool for creating knowledge, social capital, and policy change. Chester city planners discussed mapmaking and arts-based practices as new ways to inform planning for a cultural corridor. Widener University described its role and approach in assessing community outcomes, and reflected on how Chester Made served its own learning regarding community engagement strategies grounded in democratic values. Participants Bob Leonard, Professor of Theatre, Virginia Tech (moderator) Laurie Zierer, Executive Director, Pennsylvania Humanities Council Lisa Jo Epstein, Executive Director, Just Act Don W. Newton, Founding Board Member, Chester Arts Alive! Chester Made Ensemble members Sister Mafalda Thomas-Bouzy, Stefan Matthews, Tanina Harris Devon Walls, The Artist Warehouse James Turner, Director of Business Development, Chester Water Authority Sharon Meagher, Dean, College of Arts and Sciences, Widener University Mary Beth Semerod, Graduate Student, Widener University Pam Korza, Co-director, Animating Democracy, Americans for the Arts
Heritage, history, and culture continue to be great sources of strength in Scranton, including in West Scranton, with its electric Main Street restaurants, stores, and businesses. As part of its humanities-based approach to civic engagement, the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative designed the Heritage Series—presentations on cultural heritage coupled with opportunities for storytelling and affirmation of shared values. The aim was to spark conversations about the rich diversity of the West Scranton community and to bring residents into conversation about the future of their neighborhood. The series began in November 2014 with Turkish Coffee, organized by Maureen McGuigan, deputy director of arts and culture for Lackawanna County, and sponsored by the Turkish Cultural Center Scranton Branch. Yasin Kucak, director of the Turkish Cultural Center, and another young Turkish man who had grown up in Russia, gave a presentation about Turkish culture and cuisine as well as their experiences as immigrants. Most of the residents who participated in Turkish Coffee were of Welsh, Irish, or German descent. Following the main presentation, McGuigan asked the assembled group to talk about their own cultural heritage as well as their feelings about West Scranton, including economic challenges and fears about change in the neighborhood. “Although some of the conversation started out negatively, once people were talking more in depth and about specific things, the mood shifted. It was very touching to see the pride people had about West Scranton,” McGuigan said. Members of the group mentioned specific churches and schools they had attended, and they reflected on how much they liked the people of West Scranton and the sense of community they had always found there. The success of Turkish Coffee warmed other groups up to the possibility of hosting Heritage Series events. Subsequent events, including Welsh Tea, Dominican Carnival, Irish Supper, and Italian Antipasto were well attended. McGuigan facilitated the Welsh Tea event, with the West Hyde Park Neighborhood Association providing traditional Welsh foods. Roughly 45 people attended to hear presenters on Welsh cultural themes, including a woman recounting a trip to Wales, an author who wrote a historical novel, and two seniors who talked about growing up in Scranton. Audience discussion followed each presentation. Beyond expressing cultural points that resonated with them—encouraged by the photos shown or novel excerpt read together—the group discussed how Welsh culture could be reflected in future designs for parks in West Scranton. “One woman mentioned that she hadn’t previously thought of a park in this way, which to me was a great moment,” McGuigan said. “It’s inspiring to me that just having a dialogue and focusing on the positive aspects of a neighborhood could help a community open up to possibility and, instead of being defeated by challenges, come together to face them.” Related Content Turning Strangers into Neighbors Fellows Park Ribbon Cutting
On September 25, 2015, the Scranton Neighborhood Park Collaborative and West Scranton Hyde Park Neighborhood Watch hosted a ribbon-cutting ceremony to mark completion of the "Safety Phase" of renovations in Fellows Park. Scranton Area Community Foundation President and CEO Laura Ducceschi, who launched this project, told the Scranton Times-Tribune, "We learned what our community wants to see in this particular park," and this event marked "the beginning of where we are going to go next." Through storytelling and information-gathering sessions during the year-long phase, the Collaborative engaged community members in planning for the park's future. Landscape architect Tom McLane worked with the group on design concepts, including plans for a gazebo and amphitheater, which will be built during future phases. In addition safety improvements such as installing a fence and lights and improving landscaping were also made. The following photos of the event were taken by Burnside Photographic. Related Content Scranton Heritage Series Turning Strangers into Neighbors
Governor Tom Wolf has declared October 2015 as Arts and Humanities Month in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Established 20 years ago, Arts and Humanities Month has become the nation's largest collective annual celebration of the arts. Every October organizations nationwide encourage Americans to explore new facets of the arts and humanities in their lives and to begin a lifelong habit of active participation in the arts and humanities. The text of the proclamation appears below. View a pdf of the signed proclamation with the governor’s seal at the bottom of the page.
On September 29, 1965, President Lyndon Johnson signed an act that led to the creation of the National Endowment for the Humanites (NEH). To mark this milestone, the NEH held a digital event designed to flood social media with support for the humanities on September 29, 2015, at 1 p.m. A special THANK YOU to all who helped us infuse the celebration with Pennslyvania pride. A selection of well wishes from across the commonwealth appears below. Track #NEHturns50 throughout the year for news and special events.
The Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative joins the forces of six local nonprofit organizations in using the humanities to advance civic engagement in West Scranton. One of the crucial questions facing this group--and the West Scranton neighborhood--is how to bring residents together around a sense of community. It’s a question that Jesse J. Ergott had considered extensively before the nonprofit organization he leads, NeighborWorks Northeastern Pennsylvania, joined the Collaborative. NeighborWorks had been working in West Scranton for more than a year through its Home Matters Repair Initiative, which enlists local volunteers to provide no-cost home repairs to elderly, disabled, and modest-income residents in Lackawanna County. One of NeighborWorks’ aims is to bring the “neighbor” concept back into the community. This aim connects well with the humanities-based approach of the Collaborative to create opportunities for residents to affirm shared values and experiences and encourage dialogue on the path to a stronger community. In particular Ergott feels that the Collaborative’s project to bring West Scranton residents together around planning pocket parks provided a concrete next step for engaging people who had benefitted from Neighbor Works’ efforts. “The pocket parks provide a reason for people to get together and talk about what they want their community to be. They will also provide a space for them to continue gathering,” said Ergott. To illustrate his point, Ergott shared a story about a woman named Agnes, whose house was chosen by NeighborWorks to be painted and repaired for free. Even though Agnes has lived in her house for more than 30 years, she’s met many of her current neighbors only recently. For years Agnes had avoided contact with the community because she felt embarrassed by the state of her home. But once her house was repaired and painted, she began to spend time sitting on her porch, talking with people, and she began attending events and meetings in the neighborhood. “Sometimes people on the receiving end of service think, ‘These volunteers gave me so much. What can I do now to give back?’ Ergott said. He is hopeful that the work of the Scranton Area Neighborhood Park Collaborative will continue to provide residents like Agnes with ongoing links to the community. “It brings people together who had no reason to come together previously,” he said. “For a neighborhood like West Scranton, a project like this really represents hope.” Related Content Scranton Heritage Series Fellows Park Ribbon Cutting
The Chester Made initiative is a tangible demonstration of how democracy can be animated by imaginative humanities programming--by people creatively engaged in history, storytelling, and dialogue about issues affecting their community. The initiative reached a culminating moment on July 22, 2015, when the Chester Made Ensemble made a presentation to Chester City Council in the form of an original play and a cultural asset map. The presentation attracted press attention, including an evocative radio and web report by WHYY's Newsworks team, which also appeared on the Keystone Crossroads site and inspired a Nonprofit Quarterly feature. "Instead of just creating a two-dimensional map based on research and surveys, we used storytelling and theater as a way to capture the data to go on the map," ensemble member Lamarr Todd said to begin the presentation. "In this way, we were able to use community voices and experiences as the heart of the map. Stories are data with soul,” added his colleague Don Newton. In February 2015 eight story-gathering sessions, facilitated by the Chester Made Ensemble, were held throughout Chester. More than 350 residents participated, sharing 140 stories about the creative and cultural life of their community. During the sessions, the Chester Made Ensemble brought residents’ stories to life through gift-backs, spontaneous acts of improvised theater. Residents also had the opportunity to situate their stories in a physical context, by placing colorful sticky notes on a poster-sized map of the Chester Cultural Corridor. In July 2015 Widener University students analyzed the stories and, together with the Chester City Planning Department, The Artist Warehouse, and the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, created an online ESRI cultural asset map, marking places of significance across the city. The map is both a visual celebration of creative life and a visioning tool. To paraphrase Don Newton, it is data with a soul. The process of cultural mapping is never done. There will--and should--always be new information and assets to add. The work to date on the Chester cultural asset map, however, has established a solid foundation. Project Partners Chester Made project partners include the City of Chester, Widener University, Pennsylvania Humanities Council, Chester Arts Alive, Just Act (formerly Gas & Electric Arts), The Artist Warehouse, and Americans for the Arts. Funding Major support of the Chester Cultural Corridor has been provided by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from PECO and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
How do we kindle a sense of wonder? For me, the memory is vivid—how very excited my daughter was when she found the ship manifest online. It contained the name of her great grandfather who had emigrated from Greece in 1910. “Would you believe they changed the spelling of his name?” she told me, breathlessly. Such moments as this instill a sense of joy and wonder about the past and how it connects to here and now. The challenge is to create those moments for as many people as we can. At the Pennsylvania Humanities Council, that’s what we’re trying to do. One way is by building a partnership with the Pennsylvania library community for out-of-school called Teen Reading Lounge. Participants use popular teen books and fun arts experiences to foster creative discovery outside the classroom and deep learning for teens, who actively create the program with librarians and educators. It’s all based on the concept of “connected learning,” which brings a young person’s interests, extracurricular activities, experiences, and passions into the mix. Our humanities partners – from grassroots arts and cultural organizations to universities, museums, history societies, and art galleries – are wrestling with how to make their work meaningful for the public. In that regard, we see the Pennsylvania Humanities Council learning from a community of practitioners who are providing people from all walks of life the tools to learn, engage with oneanother, and build a better future. Teen Reading Lounge is one example of the participatory programming that is essential to our future.. The collection Letting Go? Shared Historical Authority in a User-Generated World brings together leading innovators in public humanities to talk about visitor-generated experiences – how they can transform our cultural spaces, empower people to tell truths not previously told, and compel cultural organizations to co-create and change our content in an ongoing conversation with our communities. “[All] people have a narrative role to play in the exploration of human experience,” writes contributor Kathleen McLean. Undoubtedly, such a position creates tension not only for experts and artists but also those audiences used to the lectures and didacticism of the past. But we will do better, as McLean suggests, to consider our participants not as “novices” but as “’scholars’ in the best sense of the word – people who engage in study and learning for the love of it.” Together, we need to share in the inquiry, change as new ideas and voices surface, and build communities of on-going learning. We need to be open for something magical to happen to foster once again the wonder and curiosity that is at the heart of learning and the humanities. Where do you find the magic of the humanities?
The Pennsylvania Humanities Council was proud to present the dynamic opening speaker for the Pittsburgh Humanities Festival: Azar Nafisi, Iranian-American bestselling author of Reading Lolita in Tehran. Following a special introduction by Dr. William “Bro” Adams, chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Nafisi treated a rapt audience to a discussion on the topic "Humanities & the Future of Democracies.” Drawing on her experiences both in Iran and in the United States, Nafisi explored themes including the power of great works of art as a force against tyranny and the lasting relevance of the humanities. “The humanities are essential to us in a very pragmatic sense,” she explained. “They remind us of our shared human struggle, and allow us to deeply appreciate the voices and the hearts of others who are different from us, who exist in times and places we can only imagine. Democracy depends on that imagination.” The March 26 event drew an audience diverse in age and background—a group clearly engaged by Nafisi’s warmth and enthusiasm. An extended session of questions and answers followed the talk. “It would be hard to imagine a more fitting speaker for this event celebrating the humanities,” said PHC staff member Candace Clarke. “Azar Nafisi’s message is our message—that the humanities have a profound, real-world impact and can transform people’s lives.” Ten years ago, Nafisi electrified readers with her memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran, a multi-million-copy bestseller that made a passionate case for the vital role of imagination—and great English and American novels in particular—in preserving the soul and combating the noxious ideology of a totalitarian society. In her new book, The Republic of Imagination, she turns her attention back to the democratic society that gave birth to these great novels and makes a passionate a case for the vital role of fiction in society today. Among key ideas in her Pittsburgh address, Nafisi emphasized the connection between individual imagination and shared liberty. “I believe that no freedom—political, economic or social—can be realized without the freedom of imagination and thought,” she said. “It is this basic and most human form of freedom that both promises and safeguards all those other freedoms.”