The Walter Anderson Museum of Art (WAMA) in Ocean Springs, Mississippi preserves the legacy of Walter Anderson—a prolific artist who spent the majority of his career on the Mississippi Gulf Coast documenting the local culture and landscape through his artwork. WAMA uses Anderson’s artwork as a catalyst for public programming and education to explore human connections with the natural world. Responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, WAMA leveraged an NEH CARES grant to develop Southern Art/Wider World, which included live digital lectures that brought together scholars, community leaders, and the public to explore Mississippi’s diverse cultural and natural landscapes. Through our NEH for All initiative, we partnered with WAMA to document the impact of these lectures. Survey results from the lecture series demonstrate how WAMA provided space for cultural exploration amidst physical distancing measures.
Over the past several months, I have had conversations with directors and program coordinators at Title VI National Resource Centers (NRCs) to gather publicly engaged humanities projects to add to the Humanities for All database.
In December, NHA worked with the Alaska Humanities Forum (AHF) to host a virtual event with Senator Lisa Murkowski’s office. In addition to thanking Senator Murkowski for her ongoing support of the humanities, we aimed to showcase the long-term impact of NEH and AHF funding on Alaska’s cultural institutions and consider how the COVID-19 pandemic is continuing to affect them.
Last month during the Virtual National Humanities Conference, we had the opportunity to hear from Johnetta Cole, this year’s Capps Lecturer, in conversation with Smithsonian secretary Lonnie Bunch. Bunch noted how he is often asked whether he has a “political agenda.” The assumption behind this question, he suggested, was that as a historian and museum professional he might be partisan or biased due to his commitment to racial justice. He takes inspiration from Cole who throughout her long career in museums and higher education has fought for racial justice, when he answers swiftly “yes: to make the country better. What’s wrong with that?”
This year’s sweeping challenges have made the need to make sense of our histories even more clear, and cultural organizations are undertaking this crucial work in a variety of creative ways. The International Storytelling Center in Jonesborough, Tennessee’s new Freedom Stories project offers virtual discussions about African American heritage and Appalachian history with Black scholars, storytellers, thought leaders, and community experts. Each event features a live storytelling performance followed by a panel discussion on African American and Appalachian history, as well as life in the region in the present day.
At the Virtual National Humanities Conference, which took place earlier this month, Emily McDonald and I conducted a workshop on evaluating the impact of humanities programming. The workshop aimed to introduce participants to our Impact Survey Toolkit, as well as to offer tips about how to write stronger questions for surveys they might be pulling together. In addition, participants had the chance to discuss programs they were considering evaluating and practice writing some questions for those programs.
In April 2020, the Humanities for All team partnered with the Council of Independent Colleges (CIC) to conduct focus groups with students who had participated in publicly engaged projects funded by the CIC’s Humanities Research for the Public Good (HRPG) grants. We held five focus groups with 20 students from 15 institutions who generously shared their thoughts on what they learned and the skills they gained through publicly engaged humanities work. We present a summary of the focus group responses here, while individual posts written by four focus group participants are on the Humanities for All blog: