We put the humanities in action to create positive change. 


The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) has expanded its award-winning Teen Reading Lounge program to twelve sites, including eight libraries across the state and four out-of-school-time sites in Philadelphia. The primary goal is to leverage the humanities as a tool for positive youth development, with an emphasis on engaging low-income youth and youth of color. "Traditional programs for teens follow the 'if you build it, they will come' model," said Laurie Zierer, Pennsylvania Humanities Council executive director. "Teen Reading Lounge is different because we start by asking teens what’s important and interesting to them. We’ve seen some very positive outcomes—and as we move forward and expand the program, we want to ensure its participants are as diverse as the population of our state."


Re-imagine the past, and reclaim Chester history this winter in the Chester Made Exploration Zone! On January 15, join Chester Made and MJ Freed Theater for a special showing of "A Chester Story"—a documentary experience written, produced and directed by Ulysses 'Butch' Slaughter and Devon Walls. On January 27, come build a picture frame—and celebrate your family history—with Emily Bunker of The Public Workshop. Bring a photograph of a loved one you would like to honor, and we’ll provide everything you need to create a personalized frame.

Program Highlights

Through funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities’ Standing Together initiative, we've partnered with Penn VUB to expand and enhance the program’s humanities components. The primary goal is to help participants build vital skills such as synthesizing information, effective communication and critical reflection, all of which contribute to success in postsecondary education. Another program goal: building students' confidence in their ability to effect positive change, not only in their own lives, but in their communities as well.

PHC in the News

If you're reading this, you're probably familiar with many of the talking points about how the humanities benefit society. Exposure to the arts improves student test scores. Museum attendance leads to positive developmental outcomes. And a liberal arts education can cultivate a set of skills in students that appeal to employers. But can the humanities play a constructive role in community planning efforts? It's an intriguing idea, and it goes to the heart of the Orton Family Foundation's Community Heart and Soul method. This method "empowers people to shape the future of their communities by improving local decision making, creating a shared sense of belonging, and ultimately strengthening the social, cultural and economic vibrancy of communities."


Last fall, not long after the presidential election, Laurie Zierer spoke with Congressman Charlie Dent in his district office in Allentown. Zierer, who is executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC), made the visit with Josh Berk, executive director of the Bethlehem Area Public Library, to present the case for strong federal funding for arts and humanities. At that time Zierer told Dent that the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) had brought $24.3 million to Pennsylvania over the last five years, and nearly $700,000 directly to his district. “I asked him, ‘Can you imagine how much more compelling the story would be if we added federal funding for the arts, library, and museum sectors?’ And he said, ‘I think it’s time to have a meeting.’”


How are cultural leaders and practitioners addressing artistic and organizational challenges today? And how do they make room for creative and institutional growth, while facing shifting audience expectations and consumer behaviors? In this series of interviews with Center grantees, we offer a look inside the practices of many of Philadelphia’s leading cultural institutions and artists, their distinct characters, aspirations, and more. Here, we speak to Laurie Zierer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) whose ongoing Center-funded project, Chester Made Cultural Exploration Zone, seeks to revitalize Chester’s downtown by engaging the community in place-making activities and pop-up “maker spaces” to design prototypes that beautify, reinterpret, and animate vacant public spaces. Zierer talks with us about the story-gathering processes involved in the project, PHC’s embrace of mobile technology and socially-engaged practice, and her vision for the future. Learn more about Chester Made here.>>


Learn how libraries and youth organizations successfully conduct outreach to recruit young people through this conversation on best practices, challenges and concrete strategies. This webinar on Outreach & Recruitment was produced by PHC and moderated by Valerie Adams-Bass, Assistant Professor of Youth and Social Innovations in the Department of Human Services at the University of Virginia Curry School of Education.


What does it mean to work with communities to make social change? “Sometimes you have to get off the bus. We cannot be tourists as program partners or grantmakers,” said Pennsylvania Humanities Council executive director Laurie Zierer, recounting how she first met Chester artist and entrepreneur Devon Walls. “I remember launching the Chester Made project,” Zierer said. “We did just that—we got off the bus driving us through downtown Chester, and we talked with people. And that’s when everything started to happen for us. We began meeting artists like Devon who had long been working to revitalize the downtown and engage the community through the arts.”


What role can the humanities play in community development–-and how can they foster a more democratic future for small towns and cities across America? The community of Williamsport is in year two of the Heart & Soul process, and many ideas for immediate community engagement are rising to the surface as the project is in the midst of drafting an action plan after a two-year process. Williamsport is one of Pennsylvania’s 45 Certified Local Governments. One of these engagement projects has already come to fruition: Heart of Williamsport spearheaded a Second Street Community Garden Project, which is intended to help provide sustainable, healthy food to residents of a low-income housing community. A desire for this kind of project arose out of the stories and opinions gathered from the Heart & Soul process, and the creation of the garden was led by engaged citizens.

PHC in the News

This is a publication about microcultures in philanthropy — small groups of people in our organizations with their own assumptions, values and working behaviors. These groups significantly shape the underlying character of our organizations.


PHC has partnered with The Orton Family Foundation to support the city of Uniontown as it incorporates a humanities-based approach to community development. Uniontown has been awarded a $1,000 grant from PHC along with training support valued at $7,500 provided by the Orton Family Foundation to help the city prepare for a Community Heart & Soul® project. PHC and Orton are working together to bring Community Heart & Soul, a community development model pioneered by Orton, to small cities and towns across Pennsylvania. Uniontown will be the fifth Pennsylvania community currently participating in the program, joining Carlisle, Easton, Meadville and Williamsport.



More Info