This past Tuesday, we joined forces with the University of Iowa to bring Iowa’s congressional staffers into conversation with 35 representatives from universities, museums, libraries, and archives. Hosted at the National Czech & Slovak Museum & Library (NCSML) in Cedar Rapids, the event was one in a series of in-district meetings intended to educate public officials on the value of the humanities to their communities.
After greetings from the University of Iowa, NCSML, and Humanities Iowa, we began with lightning presentations that dug into just a few of the impacts the NEH and Humanities Iowa has had over the last several years:
- Ruth Haus of Living History Farms and Teresa Stenstrup of NCSML presented on how the NEH and Humanities Iowa have offered foundational support for Iowa’s cultural institutions, allowing them to leverage private donations and grow into the robust cultural hubs they are today.
- Amy Moorman of Wartburg College and Cyndi Sweet of the Iowa Museum Association presented on the importance of federal funding to preserve Iowa’s history and culture and create resources that teachers need to fulfill the state-wide mandate to teach Iowa’s history to students of all ages.
- Jody Swilky of Drake University and Tracy Lucht of Iowa State University presented on how federal funding has allowed them to conduct groundbreaking research on the Midwest. With support from the NEH and Humanities Iowa, Swilky researched and produced a documentary on immigration to the state, while Lucht has uncovered the history of midwestern women broadcasters and their role in shaping national media culture.
Following presentations, we broke into small group conversations with the staffers from Senator Grassley, Senator Ernst, and Representative Axne’s offices, engaging them in an effort to distill additional impacts. Some groups noted the economic impact of investment in cultural institutions that are able to leverage their grants for private donations and attract cultural tourism. Others focused on the importance of small history museums to preserving local cultural identity as main street stores disappear and local schools are consolidated. Others noted the ability of humanities institutions and scholarship to make the diverse experiences of Iowans more visible while also painting connections to the broader world.
The event concluded with a grants workshop with George Lazopoulos of the NEH, which offered members of the humanities community an opportunity to better understand grant opportunities and the support available from program officers as they apply for grants. For the staffers, the workshop offered information that they can use to support constituents interested in applying for federal funding. Over the course of the event, representatives from Humanities Iowa, including Chris Rossi, executive director, and Kurt Meyer, board president, noted the way they build partnerships with cultural organizations and universities and made themselves available for further discussion.
Overall, while the staffers were familiar with some of the institutions they heard from on Tuesday, the event provided them with a far fuller picture of the humanities landscape and allowed them to think holistically about the ways it serves and might serve Iowa communities in the future. We are thankful to the University of Iowa for co-hosting the event and grateful to Humanities Iowa for their support in getting a wide-range of humanities professionals to the table. If you are interested in organizing a similar event in your community, let us know!
Feature, thumbnail, and in-text photos: Image courtesy of Team Joe Photo.