In early August, the NEH awarded $43.1 million in grants to humanities projects across the nation. The announcement, which included $13.2 million for Cultural Infrastructure Challenge Grants, underscored the NEH’s long-term investment in the brick-and-mortar of humanities institutions; its consistent investments in outstanding humanities organizations across the country; and its commitment to new ideas, communities, and organizations.
Over the course of decades, the NEH has time and again provided catalytic support for cultural institutions, spurring private investment and ensuring that Americans in every state have access to the humanities. Challenge Grants, which require a three-to-one match of nonfederal dollars to federal dollars, particularly stimulate local giving and encourage organizations’ strategic growth. The Dubuque County Historical Society offers one example: NEH funding has supported the organization at pivotal moments over a decades-long transformation. What was once a small, locally-oriented historical society is now the National Mississippi River Museum & Aquarium, a fifteen-acre site that tells the geographic, cultural, and ecological story of the Mississippi River and draws tourists to the region. A newly-awarded Challenge Grant—the organization’s fifth—will help the society renew its focus on local history by supporting climate-control renovation at the Historic Ham House, which is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and restore several other historic structures.
The Providence Public Library serves as a parallel case. NEH support has helped the library, which serves all of Rhode Island, develop exhibitions on the state’s history and preserve historically-significant items in its special collections. Two past NEH Challenge Grants have helped renovate the library’s historic building, making it more accessible. Cumulatively, these grants have helped the Providence Public Library become a thriving center for exhibitions and community events. There, the special collections can be accessed by simply browsing the stacks and researchers come to uncover the history of Rhode Island and the whaling trade, among other subjects. The library’s most recent Challenge Grant will continue this tradition by preserving the special collections in a climate-controlled, even more accessible space.
The NEH’s Challenge Grants convey more than funding. They are competitive and awarded only after rigorous review by experts and peers. Possession of a Challenge Grant indicates to potential donors that the project plan is feasible and well considered, and the potential for impact long ranging. And while some awardees in this round of grants might celebrate the NEH’s continued support of their work, many others are celebrating their first major grant from the NEH. Ten of them have received less than $35,000 from the NEH. Of these, seven have received less than $10,000. And for three institutions, this is the first NEH grant they have ever received. Over the next five-to-ten years, we are eager to see how these grants play out, how they shape these institutions and open up unforeseen opportunities for them, as they have for the Providence Public Library and the Dubuque Historical Society.
Of course, sustained NEH funding is not limited to Challenge Grants and this release continued the support of programs and organizations that have an impact on humanities teachers, scholars, students, and the general public, many of which are featured on NEHforAll.org. Delta State University, Crow Canyon Archaeological Center, The Henry Ford, and the East-West Center, among others, will again be able to offer professional development programs for school teachers and college educators that encourage rigorous scholarship and teaching praxis. The University of Nebraska, Lincoln will expand upon an already-extensive array of digital humanities offerings, and the highly-lauded Hemingway Letters will be supported through volume seven. All of this work—and the many grants not mentioned here—will continue to shape the humanities landscape and provide cultural access to Americans for decades to come.
Thumbnail image: The Providence Public Library's early childhood literacy programs are among its most popular. Image courtsey of the Providence Public Library.