Since 2017, the NEH for All team has documented and communicated the impact of National Endowment for the Humanities funding, which has included working with project directors to survey ongoing NEH-funded projects. NHA’s Humanities Impact Survey Toolkit was developed from these efforts.
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.
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.
Over the past 18 months, NHA has worked with 14 project directors of NEH-funded summer seminars, institutes, and landmarks workshops. These residential, thematic professional development programs help K-12 educators access engaging and up-to-date humanities scholarship and immerse them in the histories and cultures of American regions. Together, we have surveyed participants in these programs, documenting their impact on teachers’ classroom practice. In addition to pre- and post-program surveys, we followed up with teachers a year later, asking about how they had incorporated their work in the programs into their praxis.
Each October, we celebrate National Arts and Humanities Month by calling attention to the many ways humanities research, teaching, and programs serve students and communities across the country.
By Emily McDonald and Younger Oliver
Advocacy on behalf of our cultural institutions is as crucial now as ever. The COVID-19 crisis has cast a shadow of deep uncertainty on all areas of American life, and how far these social and economic impacts may reach is still very much unknown. Over the past six months, we have been working to better understand the challenges humanities organizations are facing and how they are serving their communities in the face of crisis. We’ve found our peers are not only providing informative programming, but also extending their missions to serve their communities in creative ways. To fully capture the impact of this work, we have been partnering with humanities organizations across the country, leveraging the data collection resources we’ve developed at NHA, to highlight how humanities organizations serve as anchors in their communities during times of crisis.
On Wednesday, June 24, the National Humanities Alliance hosted a virtual briefing aimed at educating our members and congressional staffers on how humanities organizations are adapting to serve their communities throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. I was joined in conversation by Vivé Griffith, director of outreach and engagement for The Clemente Course in the Humanities, and Katie Ringsmuth, project director and lead historian of the NN Cannery History Project. For both organizations, the difficulties of the past few months have emphasized what they already knew to be true: that the humanities have a significant role to play in bolstering community life and lending historical perspective. Though cultural organizations throughout the United States are struggling with the pandemic’s economic impact, they have a vital role in supporting us through the months to come.